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Posts in Category: METRO Green Line

Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line Minneapolis Transit Improvements

Signal improvements help trains get out of town 

Posted by Laura Baenen | Thursday, November 07, 2019 4:13:00 PM

Metro Transit and City of Minneapolis staff, gathered here at the Warehouse District/Hennepin Avenue Station, have collaborated on rail signal improvements that are helping light rail trains get out of downtown faster. From left to right are, Ryan Heath, an associate engineer at Metro Transit, Ryan Anderson, Allan Klugman and Ryan Armstrong, from the City of Minneapolis, and Phil Wellman, a senior signal engineer at Metro Transit.​

​Light rail trains are exiting downtown Minneapolis a little faster than they used to.  

The increased efficiency is the result of recent signal improvements, as well as an investment in equipment that allows trains to switch tracks downtown. Some of the signal technology that's been added didn't exist when the METRO Blue Line opened 15 years ago. 

"The light rail and traffic signals weren't talking with each other," said Tom McGannon, a principal engineer for Metro Transit. 

McGannon worked on the improvements as part of a team that included staff from Rail Operations, Rail Systems Maintenance, Engineering & Facilities and Strategic Initiatives. Staff from the City of Minneapolis, Kimley-Horn and ACT Traffic Solutions performed the signals work. 

With upgraded signals, trains are now less likely to get stopped at intersections between stations. In most cases, trains can get out of downtown Minneapolis in less than eight minutes, about two minutes faster than they used to. 

Because of the time savings, Blue Line and Green Line schedules will be slightly adjusted on Saturday, Dec. 7. The hope is that the schedule changes will improve on-time performance throughout the light rail corridors. 

Vehicles crossing light rail tracks are also benefiting from longer green lights due to the recent improvements. 

Getting to this point wasn't easy. It took hundreds of hours to get the city's signals to work with Metro Transit's signals, which govern light rail movements throughout the Blue Line and Green Line corridors. There are a dozen intersections between the Target Field and U.S. Bank Stadium stations. 

Signal improvements were also needed to allow Blue Line trains to operate in either direction, which they prevent delays if a track is being repaired or can't be used for some other unexpected reason. 

Trains couldn't switch tracks before new equipment was installed as part of a major track improvement project that occurred in 2017. 

Staff from Metro Transit and the City of Bloomington continue to work on signal improvements between the Mall of America and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. That work is expected to continue through next year. 

METRO Green Line Shelters St. Paul

Ambassador program makes its mark in downtown St. Paul 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Tuesday, October 01, 2019 1:26:00 PM

Ambassadors who supported the Streets of Summer pilot program, sponsored by the Saint Paul Downtown Alliance.Keeping busy boarding areas clean isn’t always easy. But a pilot program initiated by a group of downtown St. Paul business owners shows the dramatic impact that can be made when a small group of individuals is hired to pick up litter, remove graffiti and perform other maintenance activities.

The results of the Saint Paul Downtown Alliance’s Streets of Summer pilot program were presented this week, after the three-month test came to an end. According to the Downtown Alliance, five full-time ambassadors picked up 84 bags of trash, erased more than 500 pieces of graffiti and removed more than 5,300 pieces of gum between June and August.

The efforts were part of a broader program that also brought musical performances, public art and trash can mosaics to a four-block area of downtown St. Paul. Some of Metro Transit’s busiest boarding areas, including the METRO Green Line’s Central Station, were included in the Downtown Alliance’s focus area.  

To support the effort, Metro Transit provided ambassadors space to store cleaning supplies and worked with the Downtown Alliance to host activities at boarding areas around Central Station, Rice Park and elsewhere.

“Metro Transit was an incredibly great partner,” said Emma Burns, a project manager with the Downtown Alliance. “We think it was a great success.”

Burns said the group received especially positive feedback from transit customers who appreciated not only the extra maintenance but regularly encountering ambassadors, who sported blue polos with “Street Team” printed boldly on the back.

Ambassadors had more than 2,000 contacts with individuals and business owners, according to a summary prepared by the Downtown Alliance. “First and foremost, it was about having extra eyes and ears on the street,” Burns said. “People told us it was great to see consistent staff tidying up, saying hello and just being around.”

The pilot program was funded by the Knight Foundation and others to determine whether a downtown business improvement district could be created to sustain similar efforts in the future. Discussions about next steps are underway.  

Privately funded improvement districts are common in larger cities, including Minneapolis. Ambassadors with the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District, created a decade ago, are similarly focused on providing a clean, safe and welcoming environment downtown.

While the St. Paul pilot has concluded, Metro Transit is continuing to do its part to provide customers a safe, clean and welcoming environment downtown.

The agency’s facilities maintenance team was recently expanded so staff could more proactively maintain busy boarding areas and clear snow during the winter.

Learn more about the impact of the Streets of Summer pilot program

Community METRO Green Line

Council, Transit Police, partners helping families in need 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Tuesday, August 13, 2019 3:07:00 PM

Families who seek shelter on light rail vehicles are getting help finding affordable housing – and the support they need to transition to their new living arrangements.

The Metropolitan Council’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) has helped around 70 families find or begin searching for apartments since the beginning of the year. The families have largely been referred by Metro Transit police officers who work overnight on the METRO Green and Blue lines.

Families referred to the Council can have their rent partially covered through a federal housing program. While that aid is limited, there are hopes more resources will become available in the future.

For many families, though, rental assistance is just a part of the equation.

To smooth the transition, Council staff direct people to organizations that provide counseling, legal aid, furniture and groceries, among other services. A social worker from St. Paul-based Radias Health is working exclusively with individuals who sought shelter on transit.

Families also receive advice on paying bills, housekeeping, setting boundaries and getting around their new surroundings using transit.

When a family with young children moved into a new apartment, Metro HRA senior outreach coordinator Ryane Leifheit put up a bulletin board with reminders about routine tasks.

“Many of these transit riders haven’t had a home in years,” she said. “Staying in housing is a whole other battle.”

The assistance is part of a larger and ongoing effort to help individuals who seek shelter on transit find alternatives.

Officers with the Metro Transit Police Department’s Homeless Action Team are often the first point of contact. The team includes six police officers who spend their nights on light rail vehicles building trust, bringing people to temporary shelters and providing other aid.

Two Community Service Officers have been added to the team and a van used to transport individuals in need was recently retrofitted so officers can use it to provide medical attention and other assistance.

Police are also hoping to have more temporary shelter spaces reserved for individuals who seek shelter on transit. 

While homelessness is a common issue in the transit industry, the coordination between police, the HRA, local and state agencies and service providers is rare, according to one national expert.

“I think you’re on the cutting edge of this, working to get the homeless some help so they don’t keep coming back,” said Dan Boyle a San Diego, Calif.-based transit consultant who has studied the response to homelessness by agencies across the country.

Lt. Mario Ruberto, a key figure in the police department’s efforts, said the stage was set by Metro HRA Director Terri Smith.

“She said, ‘Here’s what we’re up against.’ You find out other people have finished this component. It’s breaking down barriers so we’re all coming together,” he said.    

While there are challenges, Leifheit, the outreach coordinator, is optimistic the work she and others are doing will make an impact. “There’s a place for everybody,” she said. “There’s no one who can’t be helped.”

-- Story and photo by Laura Baenen

Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line Minneapolis St. Paul

Technician training program creates careers, pride 

Posted by Laura Baenen | Monday, August 05, 2019 11:59:00 AM

Six LRT train technicians receive certificates of completion in a ceremony Aug. 2, 2019, at Hennepin Technical College where they earned associate degrees. From the left in the front row, they are: Thao Xiong, Calvin Hill, Chapman Templer, Chee Vang, Tenzin Kunga and Toua Yang.

Chapman TemplerToua Yang and Chee Vang might still be working at lower-paying jobs without advancement opportunities had they not enrolled three years ago in a paid on-the-job training program to become light rail train technicians.

They were among six people who received associate degrees this summer from Hennepin Technical College and are applying for Metro Transit electro-mechanical technician jobs with starting pay of about $27 an hour.

They will be in demand. Metro Transit has 16 open electro-mechanical technician positions and expects about 10% of its technicians of all kinds to retire next year.

About two dozen more technicians are also needed to support the METRO Green Line Extension, opening in 2023. Twenty-seven new light rail vehicles will be added to the fleet when the extension to Eden Prairie opens.

“The equipment comes in and we have to get the technicians in place to get it ready to operate,” said Gary Courtney, Metro Transit’s supervisor of workforce development.

To prepare the recent graduates, Metro Transit teamed up with Hennepin Technical College and Twin Cities R!SE, a nonprofit, on what’s known as the Metro Transit Technician Training program.

Twin Cities R!SE provided employment readiness training and Hennepin Tech created a first-of-its-kind associate degrees in light rail train technology. Courses focused on automation robotics, electronics and fluid power.

While in school, participants worked as full-time interns at Metro Transit, learning from mentors and earning $20 an hour. Metro Transit also helped pay for their first year of tuition, books and supplies.

“If the program had never started, I’d still be in school wondering what I was going to do,” said Yang, who previously worked at a tire shop.

Vang also used to work in a tire shop doing less skilled work. Now, he’s looking forward to having a steady income and benefits like health care and a retirement savings account.

“You’re getting higher pay. You’re not stressed about being able to pay the bills or being able to buy food,’’ Vang said.

Templer, who previously worked as a cook and bicycle mechanic, said he’s also gained a sense of pride from learning a new trade.  

“There's a lot of pride to be had when I step back and look at how far I’ve come,” he said. “I’ll use a crane to lift a 700-pound motor truck, move it across the shop, set it down, release the brakes, roll it off, set it up onto the stands and start removing the brake calipers.”

The other three graduates are: Calvin Hill, Tenzin Kunga and Thao Xiong.

The nationally recognized Metro Transit Technician Training program began in 2015 with a focus on Bus Maintenance.

Several participants have gone on to become full-time mechanic technicians at Metro Transit; others are still pursuing their degrees and serving as full-time interns.

Fox 9: First class graduates from specialized program filling need for light rail technicians

CCX: Hennepin Tech graduates first light rail technicians

Finance & Commerce: Training ramps up for light rail technicians

Sun Post: Hennepin Tech offers first light rail technician degree

Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line Northstar

Employees recall opening days of Metro Transit’s rail lines 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, June 20, 2019 11:14:00 AM

To hear John MacQueen tell it, the METRO Blue Line’s June 26, 2004, opening was hardly a sure success.

“One of the strangest things was nothing worked well, except the day before we opened,” said MacQueen, the Blue Line’s first rail transit supervisor. “Until 3 o’clock the day before we opened, we could not get the fleet over the railroad without something going wrong. Then for 30 days after opening, we had no service interruptions because of equipment or systems failures of any kind. Things for some unknown reason clicked.”

Now Metro Transit’s rail systems safety manager, MacQueen is among several Metro Transit employees who helped open the METRO Blue Line 15 years ago, the Northstar Commuter Rail Line 10 years ago and the METRO Green Line five years ago.

Rail Transportation Manager Mike McNamara was among the Blue Line’s first train operators. Switching from one cab to the other, he remembers, routinely drew the attention of curious and eager onlookers.

“Of course, the kids were right up front. They wanted to sit in the seat and sound the horn and the bell, and parents would take a picture,’’ McNamara said. “That continued for the first few weeks.”

Northstar’s opening day, Nov. 16, 2009, was another attention-grabber. But the enthusiasm from fans who took the train to the opening of Target Field the following spring was even more surprising.   

“The trains that came into Target Field Station looked like something out of India. The aisles were packed,” MacQueen said.

The thrill of her first day on the job hasn’t faded for Program Technical Specialist Jody Salen, who started working at Northstar’s Operations & Maintenance Facility in Big Lake eight months before service began.

“It is impressive when you see (the train cars and locomotives) inside a building up close like that,” Salen said. “They were bright and shiny and new. Ten years later, that memory returns whenever I offer to give a tour of the facility. The expression on people’s faces when they see the locomotive sitting inside the shop is as familiar to me as it was that first day so many years ago.”

By the time the Green Line opened in June 2014, employees and the public were becoming used to urban passenger rail. 

Shoeb Behlim was an assistant manager in the Rail Control Center on the Green Line’s opening day and gave the order for the first train to depart Union Depot Station.

“We had some rain, a vehicle got stuck on our right of way east of Robert Street Station, but our staff was able to deal with it and continue service,” Behlim said. “It was all in a day’s work for us.’’

The excitement that was felt on each rail line’s opening day has continued in the years since, too.

Collectively, more than 216 million rides have been taken on Metro Transit’s rail lines since they’ve opened. The Green and Blue lines each set annual ridership records in 2018.

Now, construction is underway on the rail network’s next chapter – the 14.5-mile METRO Green Line Extension between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie. Service is scheduled to begin in 2023, giving commuters frequent and reliable service to some of the region’s largest job centers.

“The Green Line Extension ’s reverse commuting potential is often overlooked,” said Robin Caufman, the Green Line Extension’s director of administration. “Extending the Green Line to Eden Prairie will make commutes easier for people going to major employment centers like Methodist Hospital, Opus Business Park, Golden Triangle and UnitedHealth Group.”

Metro Transit’s rail network by the numbers

  • 216 million combined rides on light rail and commuter rail since the Blue Line’s opening
  • 408,000 trips on the Green Line since opening
  • 32% of Metro Transit’s total annual ridership on rail lines (2018)
  • 62 miles of combined railway
  • 91 light rail vehicles
  • 6 commuter rail cars
  • 18 locomotives

Learn more about the METRO Green Line Extension

Construction is underway on the METRO Green Line Extension, the largest public infrastructure project in state history. To explore the route and learn more about current and future construction activities visit metrocouncil.orgv.

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