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C Line

Electric Bus put through paces in METRO C Line corridor 

Posted by John Komarek | Thursday, April 04, 2019 4:05:00 PM

Buses – especially a brand-new technology like an electric bus – are not like consumer cars where you can buy it off the lot and drive away.

For any bus to work along any route, it needs to be tested, retested, and calibrated. Onboard buses, there’s a complex computer system that controls functions like doors, hydraulic systems, and a host of other items you won’t find in a car. And, these electric buses are no different.

“Every variable we test can have an impact on the entire system,” Matthew Dake, director of bus maintenance said. “That’s why we’re making sure to put this first-of-its kind system through its paces.”

Metro Transit engineers are testing all the systems that could impact range and operator usage to ensure that it’s ready for the opening day of the METRO C Line.

After configuration tests at New Flyer in St. Cloud, the first electric bus is in Minneapolis testing its weight tolerance and range. The bus is loaded with 12,000 pounds of sandbags to simulate passengers. This is more weight than a fully seated bus.

“We’re running with heavier loads to stress test the weight, but also see how that impacts range,” Michael Joyce, assistant director of bus maintenance said. “If we know extremes, we know it will operate better in normal conditions.”


12,000 pounds of sand simulate more than a full load of passengers. This stress test helps transit know the extreme limits of this vehicle.

Engineer David Haas is working to calibrate the electric bus to feel more like driving a diesel. It helps the operators transition to this new bus, but also helps operations understand and control the variables that can impact overall operations.

“Without any changes, the electric bus would feel different to an operator,” Haas said. “By attempting to match items like rate of acceleration, we aim to make the transition to electric easier for our operators.”

Another important test depletes the battery down to lower levels than will be normally expected in daily operations. This helps the team understand how to plan for low power situations and further understand range capabilities.

“Just like a diesel bus, everything from its hardware to the operator to the ambient conditions can impact how the bus performs.” Haas said. “It’s our job to understand the bus inside and out in so we can provide and support the best experience possible.”

During these tests, riders might catch a glimpse of an electric bus along the METRO C Line corridor. Starting on June 8, 2019, we’ll ask our riders to put our electric buses to the test.

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.

 

Route of the Week

Better service, quirky destinations grow Route 32 ridership 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Monday, April 01, 2019 9:39:00 AM

A Metro Transit Route 32 bus at the Robbinsdale Transit Center in Robbinsdale, Minn.Ask people why they ride Route 32, and you’ll likely hear something about how convenient it is.

Route 32 runs largely along Lowry Avenue between the Robbinsdale Transit Center and the Rosedale Transit Center, serving several key destinations and quirky businesses.

The route has become particularly popular as service has improved over the past few years. In 2012, the Lowry Avenue Bridge re-opened, bringing a four-year detour of Route 32 to an end. Weekend and weekday evening service has also been expanded.

The service improvements have considerably boosted Route 32 ridership. Nearly a half-million rides were taking on Route 32 last year, more than twice the amount taken in 2012. 

“I think Route 32 service is starting to meet the market demand that has been there this whole time,” Senior Planner Michael Mechtenberg said.

To build on this success, federal funding will be used to further improve Route 32 service. Instead of every half hour, trips will operate every 20 minutes, every day.

Popular destinations served by Route 32 include downtown Robbinsdale, North Memorial Health Hospital, the Hennepin County North Regional Library and Rosedale Center.

Along the way, customers can enjoy views of Victory Memorial Drive, the Mississippi River and the Minneapolis skyline, a century-old cemetery and even a Ferris wheel that comes alive with pink neon at night.

There are also a host of small businesses with quirky names and a cool retro feel, including Market Bar-B-Que, with its neon-lit sign of a waving pig in a chef’s toque, Broken Heart Tattoo Club and Good Carma, a foreign auto repair shop that sits next to Carma Coffee, which is decorated with auto parts.

Leslie Davis, an environmental activist who doesn’t own a vehicle, is a longtime rider who commutes on Route 32. "It’s a crazy street sometimes in rush hours,” Davis said of Lowry Avenue. “I’ve never had any problems on this route. This bus is very good.”

Fridley resident Carol Owens, who boards at Lowry and Central avenues, also sees Route 32 as a reliable way to get to and from her job at Wells Fargo in Roseville. “I’ve been taking it forever,” she said on a recent afternoon.

Route 32 at a glance

Service: Urban Local

Route length: 10 miles

Bus stops: 130, eastbound and westbound

Key destinations: Downtown Robbinsdale, North Memorial Health Hospital, Hennepin County North Regional Library and Rosedale Center. Route 32 also crosses Victory Memorial Drive, lined with trees and monuments honoring Hennepin County servicemen and servicewomen who died in World War I, and provides a view of the Mississippi River and downtown Minneapolis from the Lowry Avenue Bridge.

In Northeast Minneapolis, Route 32 provides access to several local businesses, including Betty Danger’s Country Club, billed as a “country club for the 99 percent,” Stanley’s Northeast Bar Room, with its upstairs speakeasy Al’s Place reachable from the University Avenue side by an unmarked door.

Farther east, the route passes Windom Park, Gross National Golf Club and the nearly century-old Sunset Cemetery. In Roseville, Route 32 traverses a light industrial area to reach the Rosedale Transit Center on the east side of Rosedale Center. There, passengers can catch the A Line and several other connecting bus routes. 

Have a favorite bus route that you think more people should know about? Tell us what makes it great and we'll consider including it in our "Route of the Week" series. Send your thoughts to ridersalmanac@metrotransit.org

Bus Community St. Paul

On Transit Driver Appreciation Day, admiration goes both ways 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Tuesday, March 19, 2019 8:00:00 AM

Transit Driver Appreciation Day was designed to put the focus on operators like Shelly Logelin, who started working at Metro Transit in 2013.

But when students from Saint Paul Public School’s Focus Beyond Transition Services visited Metro Transit’s East Metro Garage on Monday the support went in both directions.

The students, frequent bus riders, visited the garage to hand deliver gift bags filled with snacks and decorated with one of the custom thank you cards they helped design.

But, like several operators in attendance, Logelin said picking up Focus Beyond students is just as much of a highlight for her as it is for the students.

“Even though it’s our appreciation day, we’re giving it back to them to make sure they know they’re appreciated, too,” she said.  

Focus Beyond is a transitional school where students learn how to become more independent. Students often ride in large groups, filling entire buses on routes 54, 70 and 74, as they ride to and from school, work and other destinations.

The students were invited to East Metro after taking the initiative to deliver handmade cards and gift bags to drivers on Transit Driver Appreciation Day in 2018.

Tina Potvin, a teacher who helped organize the efforts, said students ride so frequently that they often develop relationships with the drivers. The kindness, patience and smiles they offer make sure the students always feel welcome, she said. 

“Many of the drivers greet our students by name and learn about all the individual needs they may have,” Potvin said. ”They really go out of their way to make both the students and the staff feel so much more comfortable and welcome.”

Help us recognize great operators

Help Metro Transit recognize great operators by submitting a commendation through our website or by sharing messages on Facebook or Twitter. If you don't know your operator's name, include the operator number on their shoulder so we can share your feedback with them.

Know Your Operator Light Rail METRO Green Line

Know Your Operator: DJ Gonte 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Friday, March 15, 2019 8:24:00 AM

Train Operator DJ Gonte at the Green Line's Operations & Maintenance Facility in St. Paul.

Growing up in Ethiopia’s capitol city, DJ Gonte didn’t live far from a train station.

Watching the trains pull in and out gave him an early and deep love for railroading. Years later, it would also lead him to what he now describes as his dream job.

Seeking new opportunity, Gonte moved to Minnesota in 1996. He went to school, earned an associates degree in computer networking and took jobs at a computer company and as a school bus driver.

After a few years, he found a role at Medtronic. The company’s Brooklyn Center offices are just east of Metro Transit's Martin J. Ruter Garage.

“I would pass by the front of the garage and say, ‘One day, I’m going to work there,’” Gontesaid.

In late 2009, he realized that vision and began as a part-time bus operator. While he liked the work, Gonte knew from the beginning that what he really wanted was to drive a train.

He got that opportunity in 2014, when the METRO Green Line opened. Gonte was among those who made the inaugural trips on opening day, and he’s been carrying passengers up and down University Avenue ever since.

The job is just as enjoyable and rewarding as he imagined, too.

“I just love it. Every time I go out it’s like a whole new experience,” he said. “When I’m away from work for a few days I’m always excited to come back.”

The job does have its challenges, though. While he’s learned to anticipate the actions of drivers and pedestrians, moving through the corridor still requires constant and undivided attention, Gonte said.

Nearly five years after realizing his dream, Gonte said he’s proud of what he does and has no plans to stop any time soon.

Besides liking his job, he appreciates the benefits and a schedule that allows him and his wife to share parenting responsibilities and enjoy weekends together as a family (Gonte has two children, ages 3 and 9).

"When you like what you do it just gets better and better," he said. 

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