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Posts in Category: METRO Green Line

Bus METRO Green Line Rider Information Safety University of Minnesota

When the rubber hits the tracks 

| Wednesday, November 06, 2013 3:00:00 PM

As Metro Transit bus operator Byron Phillips crossed Church Street and continued east on Washington Avenue, he did something he’d never done before. He steered the 40-foot bus to his left and drove straight onto the METRO Green Line’s light rail tracks.

Phillips’ move will be repeated by some 1,500 bus operators in the coming weeks as they are trained ahead of the opening of the Washington Avenue Transit/Pedestrian Mall, which cuts through a busy commercial area on the University of Minnesota campus. Bus drivers for the U of M’s Campus Connector, SouthWest Transit and Minnesota Valley Transit Authority are receiving similar training.

Set to open on Dec. 7, the Transit/Pedestrian Mall puts buses and light-rail trains on the METRO Green Line on the same part of the street between Walnut and Church streets. Lanes for bicyclists and emergency vehicles sit on the north and south sides of the three-block area while the Green Line’s East Bank Station and other pedestrian amenities sit in the middle of the corridor.

Facing this new environment for the first time, Phillips was unsure how to react. But after making a pass through the area he said he thought it would be easy to get used to driving on the tracks.

“At first I was thinking ‘Oh boy,’ but it’s not that bad,” he said after moving slowly through the corridor with an instructor and two other operators in training. “There’s nothing jolty or bumpy about the ride at all.”

For now, operators are training in a fenced-off environment without trains. But activity on the Transit/Pedestrian Mall will pick up when buses return later this year and trains begin running in mid-2014.

Around 225 Green Line trains are expected to pass through the area every day. Another 20 bus routes will meanwhile make around 1,200 trips down the Transit/Pedestrian Mall each weekday. The level of bus service is consistent with activity before the Transit/Pedestrian Mall was closed in mid-2011 for Green Line construction.

Signals will be used to manage bus and train movements, keeping them at least 40 feet apart at all times. There will be no bus stops between Church and Walnut streets. Customers will board at Coffman Memorial Union, just west of Church Street, and at Oak Street on the east end.  

Bus drivers are also being trained to travel at speeds of no more than 15 miles per hour and to communicate with supervisors to determine how to proceed if an emergency vehicle enters the area.

Special street markings will be used to guide bicyclists crossing at intersections while pedestrian traffic will be directed to designated sidewalks.

“For a bus driver it’s a pretty easy maneuver: you make a lane change to the left to get on and a lane change to the right to get off,” said Dan Stoffer, assistant manager of training for Metro Transit. “What makes it more challenging is just all of the other things going on around you.”

Metro Transit’s operators began training on the Transit/Pedestrian Mall Oct. 13 and are driving on the tracks for an hour each morning and afternoon, depending on the construction schedule. The plan is to have all Metro Transit operators certified by the end of the year.

Similar to certifications for operating on the Marq2 corridor and the I-35W and 46th Street Station, the training comes in addition to regular education trainers routinely go through.

Denny Johnson, an instructor leading the driver training, said he’s been encouraged by what he’s seen so far. While the opening of the Green Line is exciting, he believes the novelty of buses traveling on train tracks will diminish as more buses and trains begin using the Transit/Pedestrian Mall.

Similar operations are in effect in cities around the world, and peer regions of the Twin Cities including Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Sacramento and Seattle. Johnson also compared the Transit/Pedestrian Mall to Nicollet Mall, a transit-only corridor that fills with pedestrians on summer days with farmer's markets.  

“We're not used to the visuals but this isn't really all that different from Nicollet Mall,” he said. "If all stay aware and operate professionally, we can do this well and without incident."

> Washington Avenue Transit/Pedestrian Mall

> Buses return to Washington Avenue Dec. 7

> Using ‘Keys’ to put safety first

> Close call on the METRO Blue Line provides safety reminder

> Metro Transit safety and security efforts win industry accolades

Photo: Denny Johnson, instructor, drives east on the Washington Avenue Transit/Pedestrian Mall during recent training. Below right, a bus travels east on the Transit/Pedestrian Mall during a training exercise.  

Bus METRO Green Line Minneapolis Retro Transit Route of the Week St. Paul

Route 3: From the Capitol to class on Como Avenue 

| Saturday, November 02, 2013 10:20:00 AM

Five years ago, Minneapolis resident Neil Urbanski sold his car and began getting around town exclusively by riding his bike and taking transit

To reach his job at the St. Paul-based International Institute of Minnesota, Urbanski rides a Route 18 bus to downtown Minneapolis and transfers to Route 3.

His experience is useful: as an employment navigator for the International Institute, Urbanski helps teach new Americans how to navigate the Twin Cities using transit. One of their first lessons is how to reach the Institute's office, located near Como and Snelling avenues.

“I try to impart on them that this is a huge quality of life thing,” Urbanski said recently as he rode eastbound to work on Route 3. “When they realize how easily they can get around it’s very empowering.”

Stretching between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul, route branch 3A runs largely along Como Avenue. Branch 3B charts a similar course but veers south at Snelling Avenue, continuing to Rice Street on Energy Park Drive and Front Avenue, serving employers in St. Paul’s Midway area.

The University of Minnesota, Minnesota State Fairgrounds, Como Park Zoo & Conservatory and State Capitol are among the destinations on the route. Beginning June 14, Route 3 will also connect with the METRO Green Line's Capitol/Rice Street Station, West Bank Station and light rail stations in downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Last year, Route 3 generated nearly 2.8 million customer boardings, making it one of the top five bus routes operated by Metro Transit. More than a third of those who rode Route 3 last year used a U-Pass, which provides University of Minnesota students unlimited rides for less than $100 a semester.

Returning west from St. Paul, a recent Route 3 bus quickly filled with U of M students on their way to class.

Among them was Paul Leingang, who lives in downtown St. Paul and rides the bus every day to get to the U of M’s St. Paul campus, where he is studying fisheries and wildlife. “With unlimited rides, you really can’t beat it,” Leingang said.

Workers, too, have found Route 3 an unbeatable way to get to and from the office.

Maja Beckstrom, a mother of three who works in downtown St. Paul, has been riding Route 3 since 2006. A reporter for the Pioneer Press, Beckstrom says there’s “no reason for her not to take the bus to work" when the newspaper offers cars that can be used during the day for assignments.

Beckstrom uses her time on the bus to read or catch up on chores and said she sees her 30-minute commute as a nice “buffer” between the clamor of work and home.

“I do a lot of 'kids' stuff – making doctor appointments, orthodontist appointments, returning piano teacher emails,” she said. “All my kid management, I do it here.”

Route 3 was created in 2001 through a consolidation of routes, but Como Avenue has a long transit history.

A Minneapolis streetcar line that ran from Lake Harriet to downtown Minneapolis was extended east on Como Avenue to downtown St. Paul in 1898, forming the Como-Harriet line.

Service continued all day and, while many residents rode simply to enjoy the view, it was also a popular commuter route with up to 50 streetcars carrying more than 6,000 people during rush hours. Buses replaced streetcars on the St. Paul section of the line in 1953 and in Minneapolis in 1954.

An original streetcar from the Como-Harriet line still runs between Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun, in Minneapolis. At Como Park, a streetcar station is home to interpretive museum about the Twin Cities Streetcar Line. An adjacent streetcar bridge, built in 1904, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

No significant changes to the route are expected in the future, but westbound buses will be moved from Wabasha Street to Minnesota Street when the METRO Green Line opens next year. Route 3 will also make timed transfers to the Green Line at the Capitol/Rice and West Bank Stations. 

Route 3 At a Glance

Type: Urban Local

Service: Route 3 buses run between the Ramp B/5th Street Transit Center in downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul, largely along Como Avenue. Route 3A runs on Como and Maryland avenues to Rice Street while Route 3B veers south at Snelling Avenue to Energy Park Drive and Front Avenue, serving businesses in St. Paul’s Midway area. Other destinations along the Route 3 corridor include the University of Minnesota's main and St. Paul campuses, the Minnesota State Fairgrounds and Como Park Zoo & Conservatory. Route 3 buses stop at one Park & Ride, located at Como Avenue and Eustis Street. Buses run from approximately 4:30 a.m. until approximately 2 a.m., with service every five to 15 minutes during peak periods. An end-to-end trip takes approximately one hour.

Route length: Approximately 14 miles

Vehicles40-foot standard, 60-foot articulated

Stops: 130 eastbound, 133 westbound

Ridership: Nearly 2.8 million customer boardings in 2012, with an average of more than 7,620 passengers per day.

History: Como Avenue was home to one of three interurban streetcar routes operated by Twin City Rapid Transit Co. in the 1940s and 1950s. Streetcars ran between Lake Harriet and downtown Minneapolis until the line was extended east on Como Avenue to downtown St. Paul in 1898. The Como-Harriet line operated all day. Many residents rode simply to enjoy the view but it was also a popular commuter route, with up to 50 cars carrying more than 6,000 people during rush hours. Buses replaced streetcars on the St. Paul section of the line in 1953 and in Minneapolis in 1954. An original TCRT streetcar continues to run on a section of the Como-Harriet line between Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet. The Minnesota Streetcar Museum operates the line between May and November. The streetcar right-of-way in Como Park is now a bike trail but a Como Park streetcar station at the park has been restored. A streetcar bridge next to the museum is scheduled to be restored in early 2014. Route 3 was launched in 2002. Parts of Route 3 differ from the original streetcar line, but it follows the exact same path from Dinkytown to Como Park.                         

Future: When the METRO Green Line opens June 14, Route 3 customers will be able to transfer to Green Line trains at the West Bank StationCapitol/Rice Street Station and stations in downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis. Route 3's frequency and span of service will not change significantly, but westbound buses will move from Wabasha Street to Minnesota Street, where customer waiting areas will be improved in mid-2014. More details here

Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line Safety

Keeping a careful eye on the METRO Blue Line 

| Friday, October 11, 2013 10:00:00 AM

Shortly after 9 a.m. on a recent Monday morning, Shawn Jensen and two other rail maintainers got off a light-rail train at the METRO Blue Line’s Target Field Station and began slowly walking south.

Stepping down the line through downtown Minneapolis, the neon-vested trio looked up, down and around the track looking for anything out of the ordinary.

After nearly three hours of methodic walking and observing, the three-man crew had made their way four miles south to 38th Street Station. Another group would later complete the trek, walking from 38th Street to Mall of America Station in Bloomington. 

The goal: notice any changes or anomalies and address the issue quickly as a form of preventative maintenance.

“We’re looking for track structure issues – of course a broken rail or broken rail fasteners,” Jensen, a first shift foreman, said before setting out. “And Interlockings –where there are switches – that’s a real touchy are where that have to spend a little extra time inspecting.”

Besides checking the condition of rails and the fasteners that hold them to the ground, maintainers look for debris in the tracks, slight changes in track alignment and check lubricator boxes to ensure they’re working properly. With turnouts that allow trains to switch sides of the track, maintainers look to make sure the switch points are perfectly flush to the stock rail so light-rail vehicle wheels don’t "pick the point" -- an industry way of saying get caught.  

Maintainers also keep an eye on the Blue Line's aesthetics, picking up trash and noting places where graffiti and overgrown vegetation needs to be removed as they move up-and-down the line.

Such up-close inspections – called “track walking” by those who do it – are not unusual. In fact, maintainers like Jensen walk the entire length of the 11-mile METRO Blue Line twice a week. The same inspections will happen on the METRO Green Line after it opens next year.

Pausing only for heavy snow or rain when visual inspections are conducted from the train’s cab, the federally-mandated walking inspections occur on a year round basis. A group of 13 maintainers and foreman, many with backgrounds in the freight rail industry, perform the walking inspections. All are based at Metro Transit's Light Rail Support Facility.

Rail tracks also go through an ultrasonic inspection every year using a machine that digitally detects internal defects that can't be spotted with the naked eye. Light-rail operators routinely report their observations about track conditions as well.

Even so, track maintenance staff says there’s no replacement for the kind of routine, detailed inspections that come from the weekly walks.

“This gets us very close to it (the rail),” said Charles “Chuck” Anderson, Metro Transit's manager of track maintenance. “There’s just so much you’re trying to observe -- this allows us to really focus.”

Manually performing the inspections is also less obtrusive because trains continue to operate in service while they occur. With three people assigned to the job, a designated lookout watches for trains and makes sure walkers are safely out of the way as the trains pass.

Minor issues that are identified can be remedied in less than a day while other observations lead to longer-term fixes that unfold over time.  

Such diligence has paid off, too. Since the Blue Line opened a decade ago, there have been no performance issues attributed to poor maintenance -- something Jensen says he keeps in mind on his long walks.

“I like doing this because it's good exercise but really we're here to make sure the line is in top condition for the safety of the people who are riding the system,” he said.

From the GM METRO Green Line Minneapolis Safety St. Paul Transit Improvements

Green Line progress on track 

| Wednesday, September 11, 2013 2:00:00 PM

From Brian Lamb, Metro Transit General Manager

The Minnesota State Fair is over but our planning for next year’s event is already underway. One of the most changes we’re preparing for: light-rail connections from the METRO Green Line.

The Green Line’s role in next year’s State Fair service is just one example of the myriad ways transportation in the Twin Cities will change when the region’s second light rail line begins operating.

We’re getting closer to that new reality with every passing day, too. Green Line construction is 96 percent complete and testing is well underway. Light-rail vehicles have been towed the full length of the new track and trains have run on energized segments of the line through the University of Minnesota campus.

Here’s a snapshot of where the project stands today:

> Infrastructure: In August, ground was broken for an enclosed connection that will provide access between the Central Station and skyway system in downtown St. Paul. Over the next several months, more overhead wire and equipment will be installed and ticket machines, NexTrip display signs and security cameras will begin appearing at station areas. Staff will be at Sunday’s St. Paul Open Streets event to provide tours and answer additional questions about these station areas.

> Vehicles: To date, we’ve received nearly half of the 59 new type II Siemens light-rail cars that will be used on the Green and Blue lines. Twenty of these light-rail vehicles have already been put into service on the Blue Line while more are being tested and certified each week. Support vehicles will also be required to maintain and operate the line. In October, we expect to receive a new vacuum truck that will be used for clearing street-embedded track on the Green and Blue lines. Equipment that will be used for snow clearance and overhead line maintenance is also arriving.

> Outreach: A public safety campaign that urges pedestrians and motorists to be aware around stations and construction ares was rolled out earlier this year. As testing activities accelerate, we will focus the campaign more heavily on safety around trains themselves and continuing to share this message with schools and other groups located on and near the line. 

> Service: More trips on several connecting bus routes were added in late August, giving customers an early opportunity to become acquainted with the new bus schedules over the months ahead. It’s expected that more than one-third of Green Line rides will be transfers from buses. A comprehensive plan for optimizing bus service in the Central Corridor area was completed last year. 

> Personnel: About half of the 176 new jobs – from rail supervisors to technicians to track maintainers and helpers – have been filled. Nine Green Line train operators have begun training and by the end of the year the majority of the 61 new operators will have moved over from our bus operations division.   

In both obvious and subtle ways, the METRO Green Line will change the fabric of the Twin Cities. We at Metro Transit hope you’re looking forward to it as much as we are.

Bus In the News Light Rail METRO Green Line On the METRO St. Paul Transit Improvements

St. Paul connections go every direction, including up 

| Thursday, August 29, 2013 1:12:00 PM

Construction on a new vertical connection between the METRO Green Line’s Central Station and the St. Paul Skyway is now underway.

The connection was celebrated Wednesday morning in St. Paul as disability advocates and downtown business leaders joined officials from St. Paul, Ramsey County and the Metropolitan Council for a ceremonial groundbreaking at the corner of Fifth and Cedar streets, where the connection will be located.

Expected to be completed in time for the opening of the METRO Green Line, the verical connection will serve as a link for commuters while improving accessibility at the Central Station.

The vertical connection is just one part of a suite of transit improvements planned for downtown St. Paul.

Planning is also underway to improve bus boarding areas at Cedar Street and Fifth Street, Fifth Street and Minnesota Street, Sixth Street and Cedar Street and Minnesota and Sixth Street in mid-2014.                                                                                 

New shelters, public art, security upgrades, real time arrival signs, lighting, bicycle amenities and landscaping are planned for each of the stops, which together see more than 6,000 daily boardings.

Stations at Fifth Street and Minnesota Street and at Sixth Street and Cedar Street will also be built to accommodate ticket vending machines and other components of Arterial Bus Rapid Transit, planned for West Seventh Street and East Seventh Street.

A $3.2 million federal grant is paying for the station improvements and a share of the vertical connection.

This week, service was expanded on a dozen Metro Transit bus routes serve downtown St. Paul, including routes 21, 54, 62, 64, 68 and 74.

> METRO Green Line

> Downtown St. Paul Transit Improvements

> Metro Transit expands bus service in St. Paul, East Metro

> Pioneer Press: St. Paul Skyway elevator, downtown bus stop improvements planned

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