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Posts in Category: METRO Green Line

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.

METRO Green Line

Green Line service changes protect investment, shift focus to better housing options 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Friday, May 17, 2019 7:50:00 AM

From General Manager Wes Kooistra

When regularly scheduled service adjustments take effect in August, we will replace four METRO Green Line trips that run between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. on weekdays with buses. These buses will operate as frequently as Green Line trains do today and stop near each Green Line station.  

This change means that the Green Line will operate on a similar schedule as the Blue Line, with nightly breaks on weekdays and 24-hour service on Fridays and Saturdays. The new bus service will ensure that Green Line customers traveling to and from work and other destinations will still have service during these hours. 

We are making this change to allow for safer and more timely maintenance along the Green Line corridor. It will also provide more time to clean and maintain our light rail vehicles and stations.  

Under the current Green Line schedule, maintenance staff is often required to work while overhead power lines remain energized, which can complicate their work. Some maintenance activities are delayed until there are other reasons to suspend light rail service, such as road maintenance and construction. This is clearly not the best way to keep this important public asset in good repair. 

Nearly all light rail providers throughout the country have similar breaks in service to allow for maintenance. There are 22 U.S. transit agencies that operate light rail. In a review, we found that LA Metro, in Los Angeles, Calif., was the only other provider offering 24-hour light rail service on weekdays.​

We know many people ride the Green Line overnight because they do not have a home of their own. We have heard the concerns that people without access to housing or shelter will be displaced by this change. We, too, care about the well-being of our riders experiencing homelessness. We also have heard concerns that these trains, which lack running water, beds and bathroom facilities, do not constitute a humane or dignified shelter, and that using trains for overnight stays is not compatible with providing a transit service. 

In recent on-board surveys, staff found that, between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., there were fewer riders using the Green Line to go from one destination to another than expected. We also observed fewer riders than we expected using transit for overnight stays, although that number was still significant. Some people were simply using the Green Line as a gathering place. 

Allowing the Green Line to be used for overnight stays or as an overnight gathering place undercuts our ability to provide safe, clean and reliable service. It is also clear that transit is an unacceptable option for people who need affordable housing, shelter, or other support. 

While nearly everyone agrees that trains are not a safe and dignified place to sleep, we have heard concerns that appropriate shelter options will not be available. 

We share this concern and are working closely with the Interagency Council on Homelessness and other regional partners to advance meaningful responses to this issue. 

We are offering funding and other resources to better understand the needs of our riders experiencing homelessness, and to help people connect to the services and housing options that will meet their needs. Officers on the Metro Transit Police Department’s Homeless Action Team will continue building trust, providing immediate help and serving as a bridge to resources that can create lasting change. The Council has already dedicated nearly 90 federal housing vouchers to help address the needs of those using transit as a place to stay. 

While these efforts will continue, this work clearly requires partnerships and leadership from organizations and agencies whose primary role is to serve people who are without shelter. 

Through these changes, we will continue to honor our commitment to our riders and the communities we serve. We will better and more safely address maintenance requirements. And we will continue to work together with our partners so that everyone experiencing homelessness can find safe and affordable housing.   

Awards Bus Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line Minneapolis Safety

Sarah Gibson claims Rail Rodeo crown with calm demeanor 

Posted by Laura Baenen | Tuesday, April 23, 2019 1:42:00 PM

Rail Supervisor Connie Skinner (top left) scores Train Operator Sarah Gibson during Metro Transit's 2019 Rail Rodeo. Train Operators Joe Bretto (top right) and Mose Mahir (bottom right) perform pre-trip inspections during the contest.

Train Operator Sarah Gibson’s laid-back approach won her Metro Transit’s Rail Rodeo crown last Saturday.

“I really didn’t do much to prepare. This is what I’ve been doing for five years now so operating a train is almost second nature, and I’ve always been pretty good at written tests,” said Gibson, who has worked for Metro Transit for seven years, the first two as a bus operator.

Gibson will represent Metro Transit at the American Public Transportation Association’s International Rail Rodeo in Toronto in June. She also was named the Green Line’s Garage Champion, a new award this year, and won a jacket.

Joining her in Toronto will be fellow Train Operator Joe Bretto, who placed third. Train Operator Paul Gillespie placed second but is unable to attend.

During the skills competition, operators were judged on the thoroughness of a pre-trip inspection and their operation of a light rail vehicle in the rail yard and on the Blue Line. They also took a written exam on light rail rules and had to pass a uniform inspection.

This wasn’t Gibson’s first Rail Rodeo. In 2017, the only other time she’s competed, she finished third. She was also a finalist in the 2013 Bus Roadeo.

Gibson is taking the same relaxed approach to the international competition that she took to the local one.

“I enjoy my job and do it the best I can every day, so I suppose I’ll just keep doing that,” Gibson said.

Gibson’s family will join her in Toronto to cheer her on. They also hope to catch a Toronto Blue Jays game since the team will be at home during the competition dates.

Meanwhile, Metro Transit’s reigning Bus Roadeo champion, Heywood Operator Jack Berner, will compete in APTA’s International Bus Roadeo in May. This is expected to be Berner’s final Roadeo before retirement. He has won Metro Transit’s Bus Roadeo seven of the past 12 years.

Metro Transit’s annual Bus Roadeo will be held in St. Paul on Saturday, Sept. 14, Tuesday, Sept. 17, Wednesday, Sept. 18 and Thursday, Sept. 19.

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