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Celebrating 10 years of Northstar!

On November 16, 2009, the Northstar Commuter Rail Line opened for service to the public and this year Metro Transit, BNSF and Northstar staff celebrate 10 years of service.


History of Northstar

May 1997 - 30 counties, cities, townships and regional railroad authorities form the Northstar Corridor Development Authority (NCDA) to address the need for additional transportation solutions between St. Cloud and Minneapolis.

Jan. 2004 - Governor Pawlenty includes $37.5 million in funding for Northstar in his bonding proposal.

Aug. 2004 - Governor Pawlenty announces a $2.5 million funding plan to secure $10 million in federal money. Legislative leaders publicly support Northstar in letter to FTA.

April 2005 - Minnesota Legislature approves $37.5 million for Northstar in final bonding bill.

July 2005 - U.S. Congress authorizes $80 million for Northstar in federal transportation bill.

May 2006 - The NCDA, State of Minnesota and BNSF Railway reach an agreement in principle that guarantees Northstar’s operation on BNSF train tracks for the entire life of Northstar.

June 2006 - Governor Pawlenty signs the bonding bill approved by state legislators during the 2006 session. The bill authorizes $60 million for Northstar, completing the state’s capital commitment needed to seek final federal funding for Northstar’s construction.

Feb. 2007 - President Bush recommends federal funding for construction of Northstar as part of his fiscal year 2008 budget.

March 2007 - The State of Minnesota, NCDA and BNSF complete negotiations and sign key agreements finalizing terms and conditions for commuter rail service, including a cooperation agreement that puts the Metropolitan Council in charge of overseeing Northstar operation.

April 2007 - Stearns County joins the NCDA. The NCDA agrees to study a second phase of Northstar, possibly extending commuter rail service in the future from Big Lake to Becker, St. Cloud and Rice. Four locomotives are ordered with expected ship dates of Fall 2008.

Sep. 2007 - Construction begins extending the Hiawatha Light Rail Transit Line (now known as METRO Blue Line) to Target Field Station, which connects with the lower level Northstar Station. Work also begins on the Northstar vehicle maintenance facility in Big Lake.

Dec. 2007 - Federal, state and local officials commit $156.8 million in federal matching funds and released $97.5 million in state bonding money for Northstar construction and trains.

Jan. 2008 - $32 million in bonds are sold so payments can be made to BNSF Railway for easements that will allow for the use of its freight rail tracks.

April-May 2008 - Construction begins on stations in Big Lake, Elk River, Anoka and Coon Rapids-Riverdale. Groundbreaking ceremonies are held for the Coon Rapids-Riverdale, Big Lake and Anoka stations.

Spring 2008 - Passenger vehicles are ordered.

May 2008 - Construction occurs at the Fridley Station site to build a pedestrian tunnel under the BNSF tracks.

Aug. 2008 - A groundbreaking is held for Elk River Station.

Oct. 2008 - The now defunct Counties Transit Improvement Board grants $9.9 million for construction of Fridley Station so it can be fully operational when Northstar begins service. The first of five locomotives arrive in Big Lake from Motive Power Inc. in Boise, Idaho.

Dec. 2008 - Construction of the Northstar vehicle maintenance facility in Big Lake is completed.

Jan. 2009 - Northstar Commuter Rail’s final four locomotives arrive in Big Lake. Metro Transit begins hiring staff for the vehicle maintenance facility.

March 2009 - A groundbreaking is held and construction begins at the Fridley Station site.

June 2009 - Northstar’s passenger cars arrive in Big Lake and operational testing begins.

Aug. 2009 - Metropolitan Council sets Northstar fares and announces Nov. 16 as the Northstar service launch date. A groundbreaking is held for the Northstar Link Commuter Coach Project and Park & Ride lot construction begins.

Nov. 2009 - Public events were held at each Northstar station and free rides were given on Nov. 14. Northstar Commuter Rail opens for revenue service on Nov. 16.

March 2012 - Groundbreaking for Ramsey Station. (March 2012 Breaking ground on first infill station at Ramsey’s Cor)

Nov. 2012 - Ramsey Station opened Nov. 14, 2012. (November 2012 First Infill station at Ramsey’s Cor opens along the route)

June 2013 - Minnesota Public Radio releases the Northstar version of its Sound Point® series, a 25-minute tour of history along the passageway. (Audio History Tour)

Sep. 2013 - Wi-Fi is introduced on one car per train.

July 2014 - Wi-Fi is installed on all train cars.

Sep. 2017 - Positive Train Control (PTC) safety measures are installed on the Northstar Corridor. PTC, helps prevent collisions, work zone encroachments, red signal violations and other hazards by tracking a train’s location and speed, alerting engineers if actions need to be taken. If necessary, the system can remotely stop a train. 

Dec. 2017 - Northstar begins the annual Holiday train tradition where customers can enjoy a free ride from the Northstar corridor to St. Paul’s Union Depot.  This event is fun and family-friendly.

Aug. 2018 - Josh Larson from the ensemble Dance at Your Own Risk writes and performs a German Polka called I Love the Northstar. The group is a facilitated by Achieve Services, Inc., a day training program that helps people with developmental disabilities gain skills, careers and independence.

April 2019 - Big Lake Northstar Facility begins renovating to prepare for updating their train cars. (Big Lake Service Station)

Aug. 2019A report from Metro Transit’s Transit Oriented Development office says Northstar is generating development interest in communities that have not seen much in a long time. More than $66 million in multi-family development occurred within a ½ mile of Northstar stations between 2009 and 2017.

Northstar Commuter Rail Line - 10 Year Anniversary