The Metropolitan Council today announced that the Northstar commuter rail line will begin passenger service on Monday, Nov. 16.
Northstar, the state’s first commuter rail service, will offer five morning trips from Big Lake, Minn., to downtown Minneapolis and five return trips in the afternoon along a 40-mile corridor, with stops at Fridley, Coon Rapids, Anoka, Elk River and Big Lake. One reverse commute roundtrip also will be offered on weekdays, and three weekend roundtrips are planned on Saturdays and Sundays.
Metropolitan Council Chair Peter Bell announced the launch date during a news conference today at Downtown Minneapolis Ballpark Station, where he introduced the marketing theme for the new service: “Meet Minnesota’s New Star.”
Bell was joined by Dan Erhart, chair of the Northstar Corridor Development Authority; Peter McLaughlin, chair of the Counties Transit Improvement Board; Khani Sahebjam, MnDOT’s deputy commissioner and chief engineer, and Brian Lamb general manager of Metro Transit.
The $317 million project was designed and constructed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. It is owned by the Met Council and managed by Metro Transit, an operating division of the Council.
"Northstar is an important element in the Met Council’s plan for developing a network of bus and rail transitways to serve heavily traveled corridors,” Bell said. “This year we also will complete the first phase of bus rapid transit improvements in the I-35W and Cedar Avenue corridors. And next year, we hope to start construction of our second light-rail line in the Central Corridor. By 2014, we will have completed six transitways totaling 115 miles in length, as we build a transit system for today – and for tomorrow.”
"Today’s announcement is huge news in the Northstar corridor,” said Erhart, an Anoka County commissioner. "For more than a dozen years, local elected officials, business people and residents stayed focused on one thing – building Northstar commuter rail. Now, thanks to their commitment and the hard work of our partners, we’re only 11 weeks away from service launch.”
"Building on the success of Hiawatha, Northstar is the second step in the creation of a transit system for the 21st century. The Downtown Minneapolis Ballpark Station is the beginning of the new Minneapolis Transit Hub that will connect light rail, commuter rail and high speed rail serving the region and the State of Minnesota,” said McLaughlin, a Hennepin County commissioner.
Sahebjam said, “Northstar, I hope, is the first of many passenger rail services within the state and crossing state lines to connect Minnesotans with the rest of the nation. In fact, we are in the midst of a comprehensive study of passenger rail opportunities, including the potential expansion of Northstar to St. Cloud.”
To mark the launch of commuter rail service, communities will host local celebrations on Saturday, Nov. 14, at rail stations in Big Lake, Elk River, Anoka, Coon Rapids and Fridley. A single five-car train will serve each station that day, giving citizens a free ride to Minneapolis to experience the Northstar Line before revenue operations begin two days later. Train tickets for these grand opening events will be distributed in a lottery system. Details will be released soon.
The exact train schedule is still being set with test trains operating in the corridor now.
Trains will arrive in downtown Minneapolis in time for commuters to reach their offices for work shifts that begin at 6:30 a.m., 7 a.m., 7:30 a.m., 8 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. Afternoon trips are expected to operate at half-hour intervals beginning at about 3:45 p.m.
Each train will consist of a locomotive and four passenger cars, with each car seating about 140 customers. Passenger cars have three seating levels, work tables, electrical outlets and an on-board restroom. Each car can accommodate two bicycles and is fully accessible for persons with disabilities.
Each suburban station has adjacent park-and-ride facilities, and platforms are equipped with cameras, emergency telephones, enclosed shelters, heating and other amenities. Connecting bus service will be available at four suburban stations, including Northstar Link coach buses, which will bring commuters from St. Cloud to Big Lake for their Northstar trips to Minneapolis.
When Northstar trains arrive in downtown Minneapolis, customers will be able to make quick connections to the Hiawatha light-rail line, which has been extended north to the new Ballpark Station adjacent to the Twins’ Target Field. Access to regional bus routes and to the Minneapolis skyway system is a short walk away.
Fares for Northstar service range from $3.25 to $7 each way depending on the distance traveled. Fares are lower on weekends. Customers using Metro Transit Go-To cards get a 10 percent bonus with their purchases. (For example, $11 if fare value for $10.)
"We have just 11 weeks left for practice trips and training and then it will be time to introduce Minnesota’s new star to its customers,” said Brian Lamb, Metro Transit general manager. “Metro Transit is looking forward to Nov. 16 when we can say: ‘All Aboard.’”
The Metropolitan Council is the regional planning organization for the seven-county Twin Cities area. It runs the regional bus and light rail system, collects and treats wastewater, manages regional water resources, plans regional parks and administers funds that provide housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income individuals and families. The Council is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the governor.