Northstar, Minnesota’s first modern commuter-rail line opens Monday

Officials say state transit promises affordable and reliable commutes.

Residents throughout the north metropolitan area celebrate the Northstar line opening on Saturday at Target Field Station in Minneapolis. Metro Transit estimates that nearly 1,700 people will ride the line each weekday with increasing ridership in upcoming years.

Residents throughout the north metropolitan area celebrate the Northstar line opening on Saturday at Target Field Station in Minneapolis. Metro Transit estimates that nearly 1,700 people will ride the line each weekday with increasing ridership in upcoming years.

Anissa Stocks

After more than a decade of state planning, the Northstar commuter-rail line opened to the public Monday. Residents throughout the north metropolitan area celebrated the lineâÄôs opening on Saturday at the six locations where it stops âÄî Anoka, Big Lake, Coon Rapids/Riverdale, Elk River, Fridley and Target Field, which connects to the Hiawatha light-rail line, in Minneapolis. Bob Gibbons, director of customer services for Metro Transit said the creation of the stateâÄôs first modern commuter-rail line is a âÄúlong time coming.âÄù The 40-mile line will provide a fast and easy alternative for commuters throughout the northwest suburbs, he said. Each train ride will range in cost from $2.50 to $7 based on the day of the week and the stops used. Trains will reach speeds of up to 79 mph, making a trip from Big Lake to downtown Minneapolis about 50 minutes in length, regardless of weather conditions. Each of the four train cars will seat 140 people. Northstar will offer five morning trips and five afternoon trips from Big Lake, Minn., to Minneapolis along Highway 10. Metro Transit projects nearly 1,700 people will ride the line each weekday with increasing ridership in upcoming years. Minneapolis resident Al Nohrenberg said rail lines such as Northstar will increase opportunities to use transit systems and reduce congestion. âÄúIn this economy itâÄôs important for there to be options like this âĦ itâÄôs cheaper to ride the train or bus than to drive,âÄù he said. âÄúNorthstar is another viable option for commuters.âÄù Ruth Franklin of Anoka, Minn., said Minnesota transit expansion allows the state to compete with other comparable markets. âÄúWeâÄôve been behind the times … now, weâÄôre catching up with [development of] the light-rail lines and Northstar,âÄù she said. âÄúItâÄôs about time the northern suburbs had access to transit.âÄù The Minnesota Department of Transportation, Metro Transit and the Metropolitan Council were allocated $317 million in federal, state and county funds to create Northstar. Construction on the line began in 2006. Hennepin County commissioner Peter McLaughlin said it has been an extended process with delays in funding. âÄúWe managed to make a comeback because the five counties put the sales tax in place âĦ the counties played a leadership role in this,âÄù he said. In a speech at the Target Field station on Saturday, Metropolitan Council Chairman Peter Bell said the organizationâÄôs visions for Minnesota transit include more rail services to be built within the next ten years. âÄúBy 2014, we will have completed six transit-ways totaling 115 miles in length, as we build a transit system for today âÄî and tomorrow,âÄù he said. Gibbons said an extension to St. Cloud, Minn., is in the works, but, the $150 million that is needed to fund the project hasnâÄôt been secured yet. However, St. Cloud area residents are able to ride a commuter coach service, known as Northstar Link, to Big Lake, he said. In 2012, the St. Paul Union Depot will become St. Paul and MinneapolisâÄô Amtrak station, Gibbons said. The Central Corridor light-rail line, which will connect Minneapolis and St. Paul, is slated to open in 2014, followed by the Southwest light-rail line between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie. McLaughlin said Minnesota transit has moved into the new century and promises residents a âÄúreliable, attractive and affordableâÄù commute.