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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.

Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Latchman Bhagwandin 

Posted by John Komarek | Friday, April 26, 2019 8:00:00 AM

Latchman Bhagwandin waited eight years to enter the United States. Today, he makes sure METRO A Line riders don’t wait more than 15 minutes for a bus.

As a child in French Guyana, he lived with relatives while his parents worked in New York. In 1981, he finally got the call that he would be reunited with his parents in the Bronx.

“I never experienced flurries until I arrived in New York,” Bhagwandin said. “I also never witnessed seeing a car being jacked before my eyes outside my window.”

In 1997, after visiting some relatives in Minnesota, he and his wife decided to move to the Twin Cities.

“It was the best decision I ever made,” he said. “Two years later, I started driving for Metro Transit.”

Bhagwandin said he applied after seeing advertisements that cheekily suggested bus operators enjoyed an “office with a view." Even then, he had some hesitations.  

“You hear horror stories about being a driver,” Bhagwandin said. “But after seeing the people who drive every day, I knew they can’t all be true.”

When he got behind the wheel for the first time, he remembers that he struggled a bit. A mentor at South Garage helped him overcome those early hurdles, he said.

“I wouldn’t have made it without Bob Benson’s help,” he said. “From my first day behind the wheel through today, he’s been a resource for me.”

Benson was a longtime garage coordinator at South, retiring in 2019 with more than 43 years of service. 

After 20 years of service, Bhagwandin has operated nearly every route out of South Garage. However, he’s found potentially his last route -- the METRO A Line. The Bus Rapid Transit line opened in 2014 and runs between Rosedale Center and the METRO Blue Line's 46th Street Station.

To speed up service, A Line customers buy their fares before boarding and can get on using front or rear doors. Those and other features, Bhagwandin make it preferable to driving a regular route bus. 

“I wanted to drive the A Line from the get-go,” Bhawandin said. “I plan to drive this route every year I can. It’s an easy-going route. What’s not to like?” 

Operator at a Glance

Name: Latchman “Jerry” Bhagwandin (Bag-wan-din)
Country of origin: French Guyana
Hired: 1999
Route: METRO A Line
Garage: South
Hobbies: Loves to go estate sale shopping to look for art.
Family: Wife and two daughters
Lives: Apple Valley
Best Advice: If you have questions, ask them. Never leave the garage without feeling confident.

How We Roll

Why we chose to Get on Board 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Wednesday, April 24, 2019 12:04:00 PM

Taking transit provides some obvious benefits, like saving thousands of dollars a year on gas, repairs and car insurance and having the freedom to safely use the phone that’s become an extension of your right hand. But as many Metro Transit employees can tell you, there are many other reasons to Get on Board.

To celebrate the American Public Transportation Association's National Get on Board Day, we’re highlighting some of the unique reasons our employees chose to take the bus or train.

Tell us why you ride for a chance to win a $50 Go-To Card. E-mail ridersalmanac@metrotransit.org or share your reason on Twitter using the hashtag #getonboard. We’ll chose three responses at random.

Moments of Zen

My commute acts like a daily meditation. Not having to drive gives me the time and freedom to de-stress by just listening to music in my headphones. This is especially important to me to help me mentally prepare for each day during my morning commute.

Karyssa Jackson, Green Line

Spend some quality time with Harry

Usually I read or do crosswords on my phone – I’m 20 years late but am finally reading the Harry Potter series. 

Michaela Ahern, Routes 46 or 74, A Line, Blue Line

Make a BFF

You never know who you’ll meet on board. Recently, I became reacquainted with a friend from college who rides the bus. Now we catch up often.

Steve Baisden, Route 355

Appreciate random acts of kindness

I like how my daughters and I have had random positive encounters with perfect strangers. A lady on Route 10 once gave my youngest daughter a fresh flower from her bouquet.

Jeremy Hop, Blue Line, bike

Togetherness

Every once in a while there are moments with a real sense of shared community. I’ve seen people immediately surround and care for someone who fainted and I’ve laughed along with everyone else when a little kid said something funny. It’s a good reminder that we’re all in this world together.

Glenn Gilbert, Route 61, A Line

Get a breath of fresh air

My commute is sometimes the most relaxing part of the day. It feels good to come into the office after a little physical activity and fresh air, or to catch up on the news or a podcast while riding the train.

Shaun Morrell, Blue Line, Route 21, bike

Earn bragging rights

The benefits for me are immense. I get regular exercise from walking – frequently taking more than 10,000 steps a day. 

Jovita Oghumah, Route 768

More room in the garage

My wife and I bought a house near the Blue Line’s 46th Street Station about 11 years ago because we wanted walkable and green areas nearby and wanted to live near light rail. Thanks to the convenience of the Blue Line, about four years ago we started sharing just one car. 

Charles Carlson, Blue Line

Catch some zzzzs

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. 

Mike Conlon, Northstar

Enjoy some "me time”

Riding transit is 100 percent “me time.” I can read, play Candy Crush, catch up on e-mails, or listen to podcasts.

Kecli Stones, Blue Line

Awards Bus Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line Minneapolis Safety

Sarah Gibson claims Rail Rodeo crown with calm demeanor 

Posted by Laura Baenen | Tuesday, April 23, 2019 1:42:00 PM

Rail Supervisor Connie Skinner (top left) scores Train Operator Sarah Gibson during Metro Transit's 2019 Rail Rodeo. Train Operators Joe Bretto (top right) and Mose Mahir (bottom right) perform pre-trip inspections during the contest.

Train Operator Sarah Gibson’s laid-back approach won her Metro Transit’s Rail Rodeo crown last Saturday.

“I really didn’t do much to prepare. This is what I’ve been doing for five years now so operating a train is almost second nature, and I’ve always been pretty good at written tests,” said Gibson, who has worked for Metro Transit for seven years, the first two as a bus operator.

Gibson will represent Metro Transit at the American Public Transportation Association’s International Rail Rodeo in Toronto in June. She also was named the Green Line’s Garage Champion, a new award this year, and won a jacket.

Joining her in Toronto will be fellow Train Operator Joe Bretto, who placed third. Train Operator Paul Gillespie placed second but is unable to attend.

During the skills competition, operators were judged on the thoroughness of a pre-trip inspection and their operation of a light rail vehicle in the rail yard and on the Blue Line. They also took a written exam on light rail rules and had to pass a uniform inspection.

This wasn’t Gibson’s first Rail Rodeo. In 2017, the only other time she’s competed, she finished third. She was also a finalist in the 2013 Bus Roadeo.

Gibson is taking the same relaxed approach to the international competition that she took to the local one.

“I enjoy my job and do it the best I can every day, so I suppose I’ll just keep doing that,” Gibson said.

Gibson’s family will join her in Toronto to cheer her on. They also hope to catch a Toronto Blue Jays game since the team will be at home during the competition dates.

Meanwhile, Metro Transit’s reigning Bus Roadeo champion, Heywood Operator Jack Berner, will compete in APTA’s International Bus Roadeo in May. This is expected to be Berner’s final Roadeo before retirement. He has won Metro Transit’s Bus Roadeo seven of the past 12 years.

Metro Transit’s annual Bus Roadeo will be held in St. Paul on Saturday, Sept. 14, Tuesday, Sept. 17, Wednesday, Sept. 18 and Thursday, Sept. 19.

How We Roll

How We Roll: Senior Planner Scott Thompson 

Posted by John Komarek | Tuesday, April 23, 2019 10:00:00 AM

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!

Scott Thompson, Senior Planner

How do you get to work?

I commute almost exclusively on transit. My commute usually begins and ends at SouthWest Transit's SouthWest Station in Eden Prairie. Depending on the weather, I either walk or transfer to another bus to get to the Heywood Office where I work. Sometimes I'll park at the Blue Line's 28th Avenue Station Park & Ride and take light rail. 

Service Development has a friendly competition and a traveling trophy for whomever takes transit, bikes or walks every month. Last year, I took 752 transit trips. That might sound like a lot, but I have co-workers who have taken even more trips! 

What do you enjoy most about your commute?

I enjoy avoiding the headache of driving and dealing with traffic. Considering all the transit advantages we have now -- including MnPASS and shoulder lanes, and Marq2 in downtown Minneapolis -- I’m always surprised at the number people who continue to sit in traffic in their cars as my bus goes past. 

How does taking transit impact your work?

I try to use transit as much as possible during the work day. I plan service in St. Paul and surrounding communities so I often find myself taking the Green Line to get to meetings in the East Metro. We have terrific tools that help planners make better decisions about our service, but there's no substitute for personally experiencing what our customers experience.

Are there any other transportation services you find invaluable?

Transit has been important to my entire family. About 8 years ago, my mother quit driving and started using Metro Mobility, the Council's transportation service for individuals who can't use regular route transit. Without Metro Mobility, our family would have become responsible for all her transportation needs or she would have needed to live in an assisted living facility much earlier than she did. Instead, she was able to continue living independently at her home in Richfield. She couldn’t say enough good things about how kind all the drivers were to her and how deeply she appreciated the service. My family and I will always be grateful.

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