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Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line Northstar

Employees recall opening days of Metro Transit’s rail lines

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, June 20, 2019 11:14:00 AM

To hear John MacQueen tell it, the METRO Blue Line’s June 26, 2004, opening was hardly a sure success.

“One of the strangest things was nothing worked well, except the day before we opened,” said MacQueen, the Blue Line’s first rail transit supervisor. “Until 3 o’clock the day before we opened, we could not get the fleet over the railroad without something going wrong. Then for 30 days after opening, we had no service interruptions because of equipment or systems failures of any kind. Things for some unknown reason clicked.”

Now Metro Transit’s rail systems safety manager, MacQueen is among several Metro Transit employees who helped open the METRO Blue Line 15 years ago, the Northstar Commuter Rail Line 10 years ago and the METRO Green Line five years ago.

Rail Transportation Manager Mike McNamara was among the Blue Line’s first train operators. Switching from one cab to the other, he remembers, routinely drew the attention of curious and eager onlookers.

“Of course, the kids were right up front. They wanted to sit in the seat and sound the horn and the bell, and parents would take a picture,’’ McNamara said. “That continued for the first few weeks.”

Northstar’s opening day, Nov. 16, 2009, was another attention-grabber. But the enthusiasm from fans who took the train to the opening of Target Field the following spring was even more surprising.   

“The trains that came into Target Field Station looked like something out of India. The aisles were packed,” MacQueen said.

The thrill of her first day on the job hasn’t faded for Program Technical Specialist Jody Salen, who started working at Northstar’s Operations & Maintenance Facility in Big Lake eight months before service began.

“It is impressive when you see (the train cars and locomotives) inside a building up close like that,” Salen said. “They were bright and shiny and new. Ten years later, that memory returns whenever I offer to give a tour of the facility. The expression on people’s faces when they see the locomotive sitting inside the shop is as familiar to me as it was that first day so many years ago.”

By the time the Green Line opened in June 2014, employees and the public were becoming used to urban passenger rail. 

Shoeb Behlim was an assistant manager in the Rail Control Center on the Green Line’s opening day and gave the order for the first train to depart Union Depot Station.

“We had some rain, a vehicle got stuck on our right of way east of Robert Street Station, but our staff was able to deal with it and continue service,” Behlim said. “It was all in a day’s work for us.’’

The excitement that was felt on each rail line’s opening day has continued in the years since, too.

Collectively, more than 216 million rides have been taken on Metro Transit’s rail lines since they’ve opened. The Green and Blue lines each set annual ridership records in 2018.

Now, construction is underway on the rail network’s next chapter – the 14.5-mile METRO Green Line Extension between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie. Service is scheduled to begin in 2023, giving commuters frequent and reliable service to some of the region’s largest job centers.

“The Green Line Extension ’s reverse commuting potential is often overlooked,” said Robin Caufman, the Green Line Extension’s director of administration. “Extending the Green Line to Eden Prairie will make commutes easier for people going to major employment centers like Methodist Hospital, Opus Business Park, Golden Triangle and UnitedHealth Group.”

Metro Transit’s rail network by the numbers

  • 216 million combined rides on light rail and commuter rail since the Blue Line’s opening
  • 408,000 trips on the Green Line since opening
  • 32% of Metro Transit’s total annual ridership on rail lines (2018)
  • 62 miles of combined railway
  • 91 light rail vehicles
  • 6 commuter rail cars
  • 18 locomotives

Learn more about the METRO Green Line Extension

Construction is underway on the METRO Green Line Extension, the largest public infrastructure project in state history. To explore the route and learn more about current and future construction activities visit metrocouncil.orgv.

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