President Barack Obama received the first "honorary" ticket on the METRO Green Line during his visit to St. Paul on Wednesday.
The ticket, which Obama signed and returned, was just one highlight of his stop at the Green Line's new Operations and Maintenance Facility in Lowertown, where a majority of the 200 Green Line operators and maintenance staff will be located. The facility will also be used to clean, store and inspect light-rail trains.
Obama met with several Metro Transit employees working on the Green Line, including Mark Fuhrmann, Metro Transit's deputy general manager and program director for New Starts rail projects in the Twin Cities region. Obama also stepped inside the cab of a rail car with Rick Carey, assistant director of rail vehicle maintenance, and was introduced to electro-mechanic Brooks Letourneau and manager of rail vehicle maintenance Charles "Chuck" Bragg.
"I just had a chance to take a look at some of those spiffy new trains," Obama said speaking at the Union Depot following this stop at the OMF. "They are nice. And they’re energy efficient. They’re going to be reliable. You can get from one downtown to the other in a little over 30 minutes instead of when it’s snowing being in traffic for two hours."
Operators began training on the METRO Green Line earlier this week and the line will open to the public on June 14.
Obama used his appearance at the Union Depot to call for increased spending on transportation and transit. Obama also announced $600 million in funding for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, which helped fund the Union Depot's renovation. Following decades of vacancy, the 88-year-old Union Depot was restored and re-opened in December 2012 as a hub for Metro Transit, inter-city buses and passenger rail. The Green Line's Union Depot Station, the line's eastern-most stop, is located immediately north of the Union Depot.
The Green Line was funded in part by the first federal grant executed in Obama's administration.
Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx also visited St. Paul, touting the Green Line's economic benefits. The project has “stimulated a surge in housing and retail development in St. Paul, adding jobs and economic growth to the direct transportation benefits," Foxx said. Around 5,500 construction jobs have been created through the Green Line since 2010. An estimated $1.8 billion in development has also occurred along the corridor.
Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb attended the speech along with Metropolitan Council Chair Sue Haigh and other Metro Transit employees. Lamb said Obama's visit is a testament to how much progress transit has made in recent years.
"We are in the midst of one of the most transformative years in Metro Transit's history," Lamb said. "The President's appearance underscores the hard work we're doing and the importance of creating a 21st Century transportation network that provides access to all."
See photos from Obama's visit to the Union Depot on Metro Transit's Flickr page here.
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