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Posts in Category: Northstar

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.

Northstar

Northstar facility, fleet in line for major overhauls 

Posted by Laura Baenen | Tuesday, April 30, 2019 2:10:00 PM

Jeremy Spilde, manager of Northstar commuter rail maintenance

Jeremy Spilde, manager of commuter rail maintenance, in a service pit at Northstar's Operations & Maintenance Facility in Big Lake, Minn.

Locomotives and passenger cars that have been operating for the past decade on the Northstar Commuter Rail Line are about to undergo their first major overhaul.

Before that work can begin, though, the Northstar Operations & Maintenance Facility needs a bit of an overhaul itself.

In a $4 million project, the Big Lake facility will be converted from what’s known in railroad parlance as a running shop into a space where wheel sets, drive motors, generators, engines and other parts can be efficiently serviced or replaced.  

Like buses and light rail vehicles, Northstar’s mid-life maintenance program is intended to ensure the 18 commuter rail cars and six locomotives that operate between Minneapolis and Big Lake safely reach their 30-year life expectancy.

Northstar train cars have logged an average of 300,000 miles since service began in 2009. The fleet overhaul is due to begin as early as 2024 and to continue to for up to eight years. Upgrades to the cars’ interiors, including flooring and lighting, are also being pursued.

Facility improvements now underway will make future overhaul activities and routine maintenance much more efficient. 

One especially important new feature being built this year is what’s known a drop table, a level section of track that rests atop a 26-foot deep pit.

When locomotives and passenger rail cars are placed on the table, wheel sets can be lowered to be serviced or replaced, then lifted back into position. Mark Lanthier, Metro Transit’s construction manager for the project, described the setup as an “elevated bridge within a building.”

Today, mechanics who need to get under train cars use electric hydraulic jacks to lift the 380,000-pound locomotives six to eight feet into the air. Using jacks is more time consuming than using a drop table.

Work also will begin outside this year on a new section of track that will provide more room to perform overhaul activities. In the coming years, the track will extend half the length of the maintenance facility.

The 80,000-square-foot building will also be expanded to house trucks, forklifts and other rail support equipment.

This year’s construction is due to wrap up in November. Until then, Northstar technicians will largely be working outdoors.

Passengers should not experience any changes in service during construction, but they may be able to spot the activity from the nearby Big Lake Station.  

Construction is being led by St. Paul-based Sheehy Construction, with support from 11 subcontractors. Up to 55 employees will receive a combined payroll of more than $3 million for this year’s work.

Community Minneapolis Northstar

In Coon Rapids, hobbyists create scaled-down Northstar 

Posted by Laura Baenen | Wednesday, April 03, 2019 12:08:00 PM

Maria Dierks of Elk River and her grandchildren admire miniature Northstar commuter rail operations and maintenance facility in Big Lake, Minn.Customers who ride the Northstar Commuter Rail Line must look up to take in the nearly 300,000-pound, 16-foot tall locomotives that pull passenger cars between Minneapolis and Big Lake. 

But in the basement of a former Coon Rapids grocery store at 1929 Coon Rapids Blvd., the dimensions of Minnesota’s only commuter rail line aren’t nearly as daunting.

There, the North Metro Model Railroad Club has included miniaturized versions of Northstar’s Operations and Maintenance Facility, locomotives and passenger cars in a sprawling, 5,000-square-foot display of railroads from the Twin Cities to north central Minnesota.

As lifelike as it is, Maria Dierks of Elk River astutely observed a small disparity between the model and the reality it represents. Dierks, who attended a recent open house with her grandchildren, pointed to a Big Lake grain elevator that she said was out of place.

“That’s just where it fundamentally fit in our layout,” said Mitch Pierson, a Coon Rapids resident who built the Northstar model with Jeff Dombrowski of Maple Grove.

Pierson, Dombrowski and other members of the North Metro Model Railroad Club opened their private space to the public last month, responding to interest from a recent feature on WCCO. The club hosts public open houses occasionally throughout the year.

The misplaced grain elevator may not be noticed by most, but the model has other obvious distinctions from its real-life counterpart. The model omits Northstar’s stations and features 25 passenger cars, as opposed to the 18 that the real Northstar uses.

But model railroading is a hobby where there’s always more to do. Dombrowski said he’d like to add motorized doors and lighting to the 3-foot-by-2-foot maintenance facility. If a proposal to extend Northstar to St. Cloud comes to fruition, that too could be represented in the model.

The Northstar model was built in 2013, four years after the real-life service began. The club’s display also includes the Northtown Yard in Fridley and the Shoreham Yards Roundhouse in Minneapolis, among other freight railroad lines and facilities.

To cover expenses, the club’s 45 members pay up to $40 a month in dues. Members have access to the building and can control the trains through apps on their smartphones. Almost $80,000 has been invested in the display since work began in 2011.  

For more information, visit the North Metro Model Railroad Club’s website, nmmrc.org.

 

How We Roll Minneapolis Northstar

How We Roll: Mike Conlon 

Posted by Laura Baenen | Thursday, February 28, 2019 3:11:00 PM

Mike Conlon

Many Metro Transit employees are committed to sustainable transportation, riding the bus or train, biking or walking to work and other destinations across the region.

These “How We Roll” profiles illustrate how much we have in common with our customers when it comes to how we get around. See you out there!

Mike Conlon, Director of Rail and Bus Safety

How do you get to work?

I drive from my home in Lino Lakes to the Fridley Park & Ride, where I get on the Northstar Commuter Rail Line. Fifteen minutes later I’m at Target Field and take a short walk to Heywood.

What do you enjoy most about your commute?

Skipping the traffic between Minneapolis and Fridley. When construction started on Interstate 94 in 2017, the alternate roads became completely jammed. Construction in Minneapolis also meant there were too many users – automobiles, pedestrians, cyclists – for the available space. 

Under those conditions, it became clear that it would be easier and take less time to take Northstar. It’s a smoother commute both ways with few surprises. Going home, I traded the stress of fighting the traffic for fighting to stay awake, so I didn’t miss my stop. I’ll take that trade. 

Why is it important to you to ride transit?

It’s important for three reasons: pain, preference and perspective.

There was nothing altruistic in my decision to make transit a part of my daily commute. I did it because the pain of continuing to drive outweighed the pain of the change. 

But I also ride transit because I like it. It suits me. In every city I visit, whether it’s for business or pleasure, I use transit. I’ve taught safety classes for the Federal Transit Administration in 20 major U.S. cities and used the transit in each of those cities. I insisted on seeing and using the maglev (a magnetically propelled train) in Shanghai, China, as well as the local and high-speed rail there, and in Beijing, Xian and Hong Kong. I look forward to using the local and high-speed rail in Italy soon.

There is also something serendipitous about my local transit trips. If you pay attention, you can see some real kindness being practiced. When I ride Route 18 sometimes, I see folks make a spot for someone who may not be as able to get around, and it doesn’t matter how crowded the bus is. It just happens. Ten people launch into action, some finding another spot for themselves and others lifting the seat to make room. I am grateful for having noticed. 

Bus Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line Northstar

‘Amazing’ efforts allow service to continue through historic cold 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, January 31, 2019 2:37:00 PM

The coldest weather in decades brought its share of challenges this week, but those who needed to travel still found buses and trains operating largely on time.

The biggest impacts were felt along the Blue Line, where crews responded to cracks in the track overnight on Wednesday and Thursday. Light rail vehicles used a single track so service could continue as repairs were made.

At the Franklin Avenue and Big Lake operations and maintenance facilities, heaters that normally keep switches functioning in the cold were no match for the sub-zero temperatures. Instead, staff had to manually move the switches so trains could come in and out of service.

Some temporary speed restrictions were also put into place were also put in place on the light rail and commuter rail lines. 

“It really has been amazing that we’ve been able to keep the railroad open,” Light Rail Director Mark Benedict said.

For bus operations, one of the biggest challenges was simply keeping buses warm. Operators were asked not to open the rear doors to help keep warm air inside. 

When operators called to report stalled vehicles, managers went to their homes and brought them into work.

Customers who braved the cold appreciated not just the service, but the attentiveness of operators and other staff.

Julie Givens, of St. Paul, said her family worried about her traveling on Wednesday. But after 40 years of riding transit, she assured them she'd be just fine. 

“And what do you know? The bus showed up right on time and I spent probably one minute outside,” Givens wrote in a commendation for South Operator Veronica Carter. “I got to work on time, warm and had no issues at all.”

Route 61 customer Kent Peterson, of Minneapolis, appreciated that Heywood Operator Aden Farah took “special care with every stop, noticing and meeting the specific needs of each customer.”

“It was clear that Aden was very conscious of each passenger's uniqueness,” Peterson said. “When I got off, he helped me catch the bus immediately ahead of us at a stop by honking and getting that driver’s attention. Aden is a real credit to your organization. Very professional. My thanks.”

The bitter cold followed the first appreciable snow of the winter, which arrived overnight Sunday. While call volume doubled, it almost looked like a normal day in the Transit Control Center (TCC). Two buses got stuck, and there was one minor collision.

“This morning went surprisingly well,” said Bill Anderson, an assistant manager in the TCC. “Sometimes boring is good.”​

Clockwise from top left: Track Department staff repair a cracked rail early Thursday morning near U.S. Bank Stadium; Transit Police Officer Jarrod Drake checked the welfare of individuals at the Uptown Transit Station; Train operators Peter Mooers and Greg Lindwall, bundled up; Commuter Rail Foreperson Ryan Stellmach, hooking a Northstar train up to a power supply to keep the train’s battery charged; Public Facilities Worker Timothy Valento, clearing a Franklin Avenue bus stop; and daily A Line customer Willard Miller, who appreciated having on-demand heaters as he waited. 

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