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Rider's Almanac Blog

Switch to LEDs lowers costs, brightens environment

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, April 18, 2019 1:55:00 PM

As a technician, supervisor and manager, Steve Engnell has spent more than 20 years working in garages characterized by cement walls and sparse natural light.

So when crews recently exchanged the yellowish fluorescent bulbs inside Nicollet Garage with LED fixtures, he was among many who welcomed the change.

“It really fills the room with what feels like sunlight,” said Engnell, Nicollet’s maintenance manager. “It looks like a totally brand new garage.”

Others will notice a similar transformation as an ambitious effort to install around 10,000 new LED lights throughout each garage and four other support facilities unfolds over the coming year. Lighting is being replaced not just in maintenance areas but in all parts of the buildings, including offices, conference rooms, locker rooms and even closets.

LEDs will also be installed at several METRO Blue Line stations in 2020, continuing work that began in 2018. 

Creating a more welcoming environment is just one of many benefits that will come from the sweeping conversion to LEDs.

LED lights are expected to last at least a decade, meaning facilities staff will be able to avoid time-consuming and disruptive lighting replacements. Fluorescent lights are changed out as often as every six months.

LEDs are also expected to use about a third less energy, lowering utility costs. Between those savings and rebates from Xcel Energy, the $2 million investment in new lighting is expected to be recovered within three to four years.

“Not having to maintain or change our bulbs for 10 to 15 years allows facilities to take care of higher priorities, and that efficiency is all part of a measured payback,” said Mark Lanthier, a principal contract administrator who is overseeing the work.

During a recent visit to East Metro, Lanthier and employees from Apadana, the Minneapolis-based company replacing the lights, pointed other less obvious benefits.

Fluorescent lights have mercury that, if broken, can be a hazard. LED lights can also be dimmed or brightened to meet the needs of particular areas within a space. As part of the lighting replacement project, dimmer and motion sensor technology is being added or updated in some bust storage and office spaces. 

Some lighting is also being moved to better meet the needs of the users and the work performed in a space. At Nicollet, fixtures moved parallel to the bus lifts, where techinicans need more light. 

Ameer Kian, Apadana’s director of procurement, said LEDs are becoming more common among retailers like Walgreens, Target and Best Buy. The company is also replacing lights at the Central Library in downtown Minneapolis.

“LED technology has really matured,” Kian said. “There was some uncertainty at first but now that we have 15 to 20 years of experience there’s confidence.”

Metro Transit installed some of its first exterior LED lights at the Northstar and Blue Line operation and maintenance facilities several years ago. In 2018, they were installed at seven of the METRO Blue Line’s stations.

Associate Engineer Claire Warren, who is managing the LED replacement project, said there are plans to replace nearly all of Metro Transit’s interior and exterior lighting with LEDs in the coming years.

“We’re excited to move forward with these large-scale lighting replacement projects and join other large transit agencies by making intentional capital investments in premium LED technology," Warren said. 

Where and when LED replacements will occur

LED lighting was installed at several Northstar and Blue Line stations, outside several service garages and the Overhaul Base in 2018. Future installations will occur at Metro Transit support and customers facilities in the coming years. 

2019: Nicollet, East Metro, South, Ruter and Heywood garages, Rail Support Facility, Blue Line Operations & Maintenance Facility, Transfer Road, Northstar Operations & Maintenance Facility

2020: Exterior lighting at Metro Transit Campus facilities (Heywood Office, Transit Control Center, Instruction Center), Blue Line stations between downtown Minneapolis and Bloomington

2021-22: Interior lighting at Metro Transit Campus facilities and the Green Line Operations & Maintenance Facility, Green Line station walkways

Top: Ameer Kian, left, and Shayan Beizaee, center, from the Minneapolis-based lighting company Apadana, with Metro Transit Principal Contract Administrator Mark Lanthier, right, during a recent visit to East Metro Garage. Kian and Lanthier are holding LED lighting fixtures, which are replacing the florescent lighting held in the middle by Beizaee.