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Posts in Category: Light Rail

Good Question Light Rail

Good question: Why do tracks sometimes crack? 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Friday, February 01, 2019 9:05:00 AM

Light rail vehicles weigh around 100,000 pounds each. So the steel tracks they operate on have to be sturdy and well maintained.

To ensure light rail tracks are in good order, Metro Transit’s track maintainers regularly walk end-to-end looking for small cracks, broken fasteners and other defects that aren't within standards. 

Ultrasonic testing, which detects internal rail defects that can't be seen, is also performed once a year. Train operators routinely report their observations about track conditions as well.

While this type of preventative maintenance helps Metro Transit proactively address repair needs, it can be difficult to prepare for the severest cold Minnesota has to offer.

When temperatures drop to extreme lows, tracks contract and are put under an extreme amount of tension. Under such conditions, tracks can pull apart and need to be repaired.

Amid January’s historic cold, crews repaired four sections of broken rail within just two weeks. Usually, such issues come up a few times a year.

Electronic train detection equipment that helps track the location of light rail vehicles usually signals a break in the rail. The equipment relies on electrical current that can be interrupted by breaks and cracks in the track.

In most cases, cracks are small enough that they do not pose a significant safety risk. In fact, trains can often continue using track areas where cracks have been detected at lower-than-usual speeds.

To fix a broken rail, crews can heat and re-weld the track back together. In some cases, sections of track may be replaced altogether.

When it’s extremely cold out, though, welding is not an option. Instead, crews reconnect separated sections of track by bolting them together with something known as a joint bar.

To minimize service impacts, track repairs are typically made overnight or in conjunction with other maintenance activities that require light rail service to be suspended.

Above: Staff from Metro Transit's Track Department and RailWorks repair a section of track near U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. The crack developed amid some of the coldest temperatures the Twin Cities had seen in decades. 

Learn more about Metro Transit's track inspection efforts

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. 

Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line

Plastic seats being tested on some light rail vehicles 

Posted by Laura Baenen | Tuesday, January 08, 2019 10:21:00 AM

Responding to customer feedback, Metro Transit is trying something new on some Blue Line trains – plastic seats. 

Technicians put plastic seats in the upper seating area of a Blue Line train a few months ago and plan to install them in the same area of several additional trains in the coming months. 

The seating is being swapped out to get a better idea of whether customers prefer plastic to the cloth that is now used across the fleet.

 “The hope is to generate customer feedback and to test the plastic seats for durability and ease of maintenance to help us make an informed decision on whether to potentially pursue a cloth-free option,” said Ryan McTeague, director of light rail vehicle maintenance. 

Customer Relations Manager Pam Steffen said customers frequently suggest plastic seats.

Plastic seats may also be easier to maintain. To sanitize cloth seats, cleaners must remove them, steam them and wait a day for them to dry before reinstalling them.

Crews replaced all the seats on six Green Line vehicles a few months ago. Thousands of seats have been replaced over the past several years. 

In addition to the plastic seats, light rail vehicle maintenance is testing a new fabric with a protective coating that is expected to be more durable and do a better job of keeping the foam underneath it dry. 

Electro-Mechanical Technician Chris Kostohris recently installed new plastic seats on a light rail vehicle at the Blue Line Operations & Maintenance Facility in Minneapolis.

To comment on the plastic seats or the new fabric seats with protective coating, please contact Customer Relations

Star Tribune: Metro Transit testing plastic seats on light rail vehicles

Bus Fares Light Rail Minneapolis Northstar

Metropass program reaches the 20-year mark 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, October 04, 2018 9:16:00 AM

Commuters exit a Metro Transit bus in downtown Minneapolis. Providing discounted, unlimited ride transit passes through area employers was a novel idea when the Metropass program began in 1998.

But twenty years after its inception, the program is attracting an increasing number of companies eager to encourage transit among their workforce.

Employees who work for participating employers can pay for a Metropass pre-tax through a payroll deduction. On average, companies kick in about a third of the $83 monthly cost.

When Metropass got its start, Minneapolis-based Ameriprise Financial and TKDA, a St. Paul engineering firm, were among the first to join. Nearly twenty years later, both companies continue to offer Metropass to their employees.

But they have a lot more company now. Around 37,000 employees from more than 360 employers now participate in the program. In 2017, Metropass holders took more than 12.8 million rides.

In October 1998, the first month the program was offered, Metropass customers took just over 90,000 rides.

Among those who ride with a Metropass is Janice Knight, an academic advisor at Capella University. Knight began using transit more than a decade ago to avoid costly parking in downtown Minneapolis. But there have been other perks to taking the bus. 

“If I didn’t ride transit, I wouldn’t have met neighbors who also ride the bus,” Knight said. “In fact, several of us get together to celebrate birthdays, happy hour and holidays.”

Metro Transit works with Transportation Management Organizations (TMOs) like Move Minneapolis to identify employers who want to offer Metropass.

Of the 30 companies added last year, 21 were in downtown Minneapolis, including Select Comfort Corporation, Kraus Anderson and law firm, Jones Day.

Move Minneapolis also worked with Thrivent Financial, a Metropass member since 2005, to significantly increase the company’s participation last year. Thrivent is building a new headquarters downtown, losing some parking spaces in the process. 

In St. Paul, the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, Minnesota Science Museum and St. Paul Hotel are among the recent employers to join the Metropass program.

The program appeals to some suburban employers, too. More than 300 employees working at Amazon’s Shakoppe distribution center are using a Metropass.

"Metropass is great for any metro-area employer," Revenue Operations Supervisor Lisa Anderson said. “There are so many benefits, like reducing the carbon footprint and handling the growth we're expecting to see."  

John Penland, Assistant City Attorney for the City of Saint Paul, is another longtime rider who appreciates riding with a Metropass. Penland regularly takes the bus between Mitchell-Hamline and downtown St. Paul.

“After a while, you meet the same people and it becomes a community where you can catch up with colleagues or friends during your trip,” he said.

  > Learn more about the Metropass program

Bus Light Rail

Rail lines on pace for another year of record ridership 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, July 19, 2018 3:14:00 PM

Passengers exit a Green Line train at Stadium Village Station in Minneapolis.Metro Transit’s rail lines are on pace to have another record year. 

Ridership on the Green Line, Blue Line and Northstar Commuter Rail Line is ahead of last year’s totals through the first half of 2018. All three rail lines saw record ridership in 2017

Northstar has seen the largest increase in ridership, which is up 5 percent through the end of June. Ridership on the Green Line is up 2.6 percent and ridership on the Blue Line is up 1 percent.

“Growing rail ridership is an indication that this region appreciates reliable, high frequency transit,” General Manager Brian Lamb said. “We’re thrilled to serve so many members of our community and look forward to building on this success moving forward.”

Systemwide, more than 39.6 million rides have been taken through the end of June. Total ridership is down 2.6 percent compared to the first half of last year. 

Gains in rail ridership have been offset by declining bus ridership, which is down 4.6 percent this year. The region’s first rapid bus line, the A Line, has seen a 5 percent increase in ridership compared to last year. 

Metro Transit is focused on building bus ridership by expanding service in areas with strong demand, improving customer facilities and focusing on speed and reliability. 

In June, limited stop Route 54 service was introduced to St. Paul’s East Side, providing customers a one-seat ride from Maplewood Mall to the Mall of America. Service has also been expanded on routes serving the Interstate 35W corridor, providing travelers a stress-free way of getting around during road construction. 

In August, Route 2 will become a faster, more reliable and attractive service with the elimination of nearly 30 stops with relatively few boardings and new waiting shelters in key locations. Route 2 will be further improved next year with signal technology that prioritizes buses at intersections. 

In 2019, the region’s second rapid bus line, the C Line, will bring enhanced stations, fully-electric buses and faster, more frequent service to a key corridor now served by Route 19. 

“We are doing everything we can to deliver the fast, frequent and reliable bus service our customers deserve,” Lamb said. “As the A Line has shown, quality bus service can and will succeed in our region.”

Metro Transit’s total annual ridership has grown in 10 of the past 13 years and is at its highest level in three decades.

 
Mode Total Rides Average Weekday
Ridership
Percent Change
Compared to 2017
Green Line 6,570,037 40,820 + 2.6%
Blue Line 5,261,735 31,571 + 1%
Northstar 393,052 2,824 + 5%
Bus 27,416,637 182,404 - 4.5%
Total 39,641,461 257,620 - 1.6%

 

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