Metro Transit and City of Minneapolis staff, gathered here at the Warehouse District/Hennepin Avenue Station, have collaborated on rail signal improvements that are helping light rail trains get out of downtown faster. From left to right are, Ryan Heath, an associate engineer at Metro Transit, Ryan Anderson, Allan Klugman and Ryan Armstrong, from the City of Minneapolis, and Phil Wellman, a senior signal engineer at Metro Transit.
Light rail trains are exiting downtown Minneapolis a little faster than they used to.
The increased efficiency is the result of recent signal improvements, as well as an investment in equipment that allows trains to switch tracks downtown. Some of the signal technology that's been added didn't exist when the METRO Blue Line opened 15 years ago.
"The light rail and traffic signals weren't talking with each other," said Tom McGannon, a principal engineer for Metro Transit.
McGannon worked on the improvements as part of a team that included staff from Rail Operations, Rail Systems Maintenance, Engineering & Facilities and Strategic Initiatives. Staff from the City of Minneapolis, Kimley-Horn and ACT Traffic Solutions performed the signals work.
With upgraded signals, trains are now less likely to get stopped at intersections between stations. In most cases, trains can get out of downtown Minneapolis in less than eight minutes, about two minutes faster than they used to.
Because of the time savings, Blue Line and Green Line schedules will be slightly adjusted on Saturday, Dec. 7. The hope is that the schedule changes will improve on-time performance throughout the light rail corridors.
Vehicles crossing light rail tracks are also benefiting from longer green lights due to the recent improvements.
Getting to this point wasn't easy. It took hundreds of hours to get the city's signals to work with Metro Transit's signals, which govern light rail movements throughout the Blue Line and Green Line corridors. There are a dozen intersections between the Target Field and U.S. Bank Stadium stations.
Signal improvements were also needed to allow Blue Line trains to operate in either direction, which they prevent delays if a track is being repaired or can't be used for some other unexpected reason.
Trains couldn't switch tracks before new equipment was installed as part of a major track improvement project that occurred in 2017.
Staff from Metro Transit and the City of Bloomington continue to work on signal improvements between the Mall of America and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. That work is expected to continue through next year.