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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

On Off The Clock

On/Off the Clock with Elaine Warren 

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

Job: Principal Administrative Specialist, Transit Police

Years of Service: 5

How did you come to work at Metro Transit and what do you do?

After 30 years as a store alterations manager for bridal, couture and men’s and women’s clothing, the company I worked for was sold. I thought it was an opportunity to do something different. I was informed of a temporary administrative position at the Metro Transit Police Department.

My father and spouse were in corrections, so I had a little knowledge of what this could be. I kind of went out on a wing and a prayer hoping it would transition into something permanent, and here   am five years later, Principal Administrative Specialist at West Command (Minneapolis).

What is your favorite part about working for Metro Transit?

I’m most likely your first point of contact when you come to West Command. I like the diversity of my job responsibilities here, dealing with people from many aspects of life or business in and outside of Metro Transit. I especially like the camaraderie of the police family. This is an awesome group of folks who have great care and concern for each other. That makes it a pleasure to work here. 

What are your favorite activities when you’re not working or are “Off the Clock”?

I like to volunteer with Transit Police and at other events where I can be creative. For the last four years, I’ve worked with a few other seamstresses to alter garments for the Saint Paul Winter Carnival royalty. We spent the weekend in a hotel room with our sewing machines, working around the clock to get them ready. (Above, Warren makes alterations to a dress worn by Alison Gunter, the 2019 Saint Paul Winter Carnival's Queen of the Snows.)

I also volunteer with Operation Glass Slipper, which provides prom gowns and accessories at no charge to high school girls throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin who would be unable to afford them. At the organization’s annual Princess Event in mid-March, more than 1,000 girls are outfitted for prom with the help of hundreds of volunteer Fairy Godmothers like me who make alterations. I also enjoy Latin dancing and family time. I have two sets of twin grandchildren!

Ride free to the Saint Paul Winter Carnival

The Saint Paul Winter Carnival continues through Sunday, Feb. 3, with events at Kellogg Mall Park, Union Depot and the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. With a downloadable pass, visitors can ride Metro Transit for free from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Learn more and download a free ride pass

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. 

C Line

Electric bus put to the test in St. Cloud 

Posted by John Komarek | Tuesday, January 29, 2019 10:21:00 AM

For two days, technical staff from bus maintenance tested the first electric bus produced at New Flyer in St. Cloud.


At the New Flyer facility in St. Cloud, Metro Transit took not only another step towards opening the METRO C Line, but also a giant step towards the goal of electrifying the bus fleet.

For two days, a team of bus maintenance mechanics and technical support staff from Metro Transit tested the very first battery electric bus to be constructed at that facility and, in the process, achieved a few more firsts.

“It’s exciting to be here. It’s just historic!” David Haas, Overhaul Base technical support engineer said. “Just a few years ago, this would have been considered impossible. Now we’re here and testing it.”

This 60-foot electric bus is one of eight buses that will operate on the METRO C Line, but before the remaining seven are constructed, transit needs to make sure this bus is built to specifications.

“We tested and inspected the bus top to bottom to make sure it’s up to our standards,” Haas said. “It’s also a good time for our mechanics and support staff to familiarize and plan for this new system.”

Haas and Hinck inspect components beneath the electric bus.

Tabin Hinck, supervisor of fleet service lifts/brakes, kept a close eye on details that could become issues throughout these vehicle’s lives. From something as minor as a low hanging part that could drag to the new propulsion system, any part could become an issue and needs to be understood.

“This will be the first time anyone in transit will work with these buses.” Hincks said. “From a mechanic’s perspective, there’s some similarities between this bus and a hybrid, but there are a lot of differences that our team will prepare for.”

Some tests were planned; others weren’t but presented themselves as opportunities. 

Staff planned a highway test that would push the bus to its maximum speed limit of 65mph, but the subzero temperatures were an added stress test that presented itself – both were firsts for this vehicle and transit.  Other tests included acceleration and stopping, which in the cold and snowy weather provided an extreme example of conditions in which the bus may have to operate.

Haas take a moment to review data with a colleague after conducting acceleration testing.

After finishing extensive testing, the team left St. Cloud optimistic but, as is character for any good engineer or mechanic, realistic.

 “It performed well.” Steve Kaari, supervisor of fleet service preventative maintenance said. “But, there’s still a lot to learn. We won’t know the full story until the rubber hits the road.” 

The next steps for the electric buses is dynamic testing along the METRO C Line corridor, which will include the addition of charging the bus batteries in route.


New course helps applicants earn their permits 

Posted by John Komarek | Friday, January 25, 2019 1:29:00 PM

Mechell Snider proudly holds her Commercial Learners Permit (CLP) and looks forward to more hands-on learning in a bus.

At the Metro Transit Learning Center, ten bus operator applicants took their first step towards employment by earning a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) learners permit.

Those who tested represent the first class of applicants  from the new Express Commercial Learners Permit (CLP) Program, which streamlines the application process supported by a new, manageable curriculum taught by staff.

When a person decides to apply, staff start with the basics: helping applicant fill out an application form. Support continues with an eight-hour course to help prepare for a test that draws from information in a 100-plus page technical manual.

Mechell Snider of Minneapolis earned her CLP, but she’s never sat behind the wheel of anything bigger than a small moving truck. She credits free help and the coursework for her success.

“There’s a lot of technical information to take in a short period, but the coursework broke down the information into chunks and continually reviewed it, which helped me manage the workload.” Mechell Snider said. “Also, knowing that there were flexible times and people available to help gave me a lot of confidence.”

She is excited to get out of the classroom and onto a bus for more hands-on learning.

“The hardest part is done,” Snider said. “No more just learning about it in a book.”

The next step for these permit holders is getting behind the wheel and an interview. If they earn employment, transit will continue to set them up for success with a bus operator mentor.

Learn more about bus driver applicant preparation classes at Metro Transit.

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