Northstar Line (reporting mark MNRX) is a commuter rail route in
the US state of Minnesota. Northstar runs 40 miles (64 km) from
Big Lake to downtown
Target Field using existing track
and right-of-way owned by the BNSF Railway. Passenger service began on
November 16, 2009. The rail line serves part of the Northstar
Minneapolis and St. Cloud. Planning for the line
began in 1997 when the Northstar Corridor Development Authority (NCDA)
was formed. The corridor is mostly served by
Interstate 94 and U.S.
2 Construction and operation
5 Upgrades and future extension
7 Rolling stock
10 External links
The platforms at
Target Field under construction in 2009.
The route was initially designed to run the full distance between
Minneapolis and Rice, Minnesota, northwest of St. Cloud. The project
was counting on federal funding for half of its construction costs.
The estimated ridership for the full route was not high enough to
qualify for that much needed federal funding.
When the line was first proposed, then-Governor
Jesse Ventura was an
early advocate and convinced some people to come around to his point
of view. Ventura's successor, Governor Tim Pawlenty, did not
initially support it. He changed his mind after MnDOT determined that
a scaled-back version of the line would qualify for federal funding.
Minnesota Legislative session did not pass a bonding bill,
which meant a lack of funds for initial project work. Some counties in
the area and the
Metropolitan Council came up with matching funds to
allow funding from the
United States federal government
United States federal government to continue.
During the 2005 state legislative session, a bonding bill including
$37.5 million of funding for the proposed project was passed. The bill
was signed on April 11, 2005, by Governor
Tim Pawlenty at the site of
the Riverdale station in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The 2006 state
legislature, along with city, county and federal governments, provided
funding to complete the corridor to Big Lake.
Construction began on the maintenance facility near Big Lake station
and on the Blue Line light rail extension in September 2007, before
full funding for the line had been secured. On December 11, 2007,
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation Thomas Barrett met with
Governor Pawlenty in Anoka County and officially signed a Full Funding
Grant Agreement of $156.8 million, nearly half of the funding for the
$317 million, 40-mile (64 km) line from
Minneapolis to Big Lake.
The money enabled the release of an additional $97.5 million in state
bonding money set aside for the project.
The federal government paid $156.8 million, the state paid $98.6
million and the Anoka County Regional Rail Authority pledged $34.8
million. The remaining partners were Sherburne County Regional Rail
Authority ($8.2 million), Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority ($8
Metropolitan Council ($5.9 million) and the Minnesota
Twins ($2.6 million, for the station improvements under the new Target
Field where the
Minneapolis station was constructed). Of the $317
million total, $107.5 million went to paying BNSF for a perpetual
easement for track rights and facilities along the line and to pay the
BNSF employees that operate the trains. The operating budget for the
first full year of service, 2010, was $16.8 million.
Construction and operation
Northstar platform at
Target Field station.
Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) and the Northstar
Corridor Development Authority (NCDA) studied options for development
of the corridor to handle the increasing commuter load and felt that a
commuter rail line was the best option. It was expected to cost about
US$265 million in 2008 dollars, estimated to be less than one-third
the cost of upgrading existing highways, though the cost would
later climb to $317 million. Because almost all of the route being
used already existed, the investment mostly went into building new
stations, upgrading track, enhancing the safety of crossings, and
updating signals. A significant portion of the funds were to extend
METRO Blue Line
METRO Blue Line to the
Target Field station on the west side of
Interstate 394 and 5th Street. This terminal station is integrated
Minnesota Twins' new ballpark, Target Field, which opened in
The line has six trains running in the morning and evening rush hour
periods, and limited service on weekends and holidays.
lines, including the Northstar Link from St. Cloud to Big Lake
station, bring residents along the corridor to the nearest train
station. Once in downtown, commuters can walk upstairs to the METRO
Blue and Green Lines, take a bus into other areas of the city, or go
into one of the nearby buildings integrated into the Minneapolis
skyway system. In the first year, 2010, Metro Ridership fell well
short of its goal of 3,400 weekday trips from this station. Metro
Transit has a goal for of 5,900 by 2030 intending to save those
commuters 900,000 hours over the course of a year when compared to
taking a dedicated bus line.
Annual Passenger Ridership
Ridership in the first 15 days averaged 2,207 per day (33,112 total),
short of a goal of 2,460. By the end of January 2010, goals were
exceeded by 3%. Ridership for 2010 was originally projected to be
897,000 though ultimately ended up at 715,000. Because ridership
varies significantly through the course of a year, Metro Transit's
month-to-month goals are different from the yearly average goal.
A Northstar train crosses the
Mississippi River at Nicollet Island
Target Field Station, the parallel rail lines of the old Great
Northern Railway (north side track now BNSF) and the
St. Louis Railway (south side track now Union Pacific) travel
eastbound past the Federal Reserve Bank, the site of the old
Minneapolis Great Northern Depot, across the
Mississippi River on the
Minneapolis BNSF Rail Bridge and then across Nicollet Island. At a
wye, the route turns northwest in the GN East side line, which then
joins the parallel ex-Northern Pacific main line. The ex-Great
Northern and ex-Northern Pacific lines are merged into BNSF and this
is now the BNSF
Northern Transcon (transcontinental) line.
The route travels north through the Northtown Classification Yards,
Interstate 694 and makes its first stop at 61st Avenue in Fridley
at the yard limit of Northtown, where it enters BNSF's Staples
Subdivision. The double track line continues past the current Foley
Boulevard park-and-ride bus station, which is planned to be a future
Northstar station and turns northwest at Coon Creek Junction, where
the old GN route to Duluth (now BNSF's Hinckley Subdivision) splits
off and heads straight north. The current Coon Rapids station is
behind the Riverdale shopping center by Round Lake Boulevard and new
stations were also built in Anoka, Elk River, and Big Lake.
The Great Northern Railway and Northern Pacific Railway had local
Minneapolis to all of the cities currently served by
Northstar up through the early 20th century. One Fridley station was
about a mile north of the current stop, at Mississippi Boulevard.
There possibly was a stop shared by GN and NP at Coon Creek
Junction. There were at least three stations built in Anoka over
the years, and two stations in Elk River and Big Lake, with both
cities having one stop for each railroad.
Upgrades and future extension
The double-track main line between Northtown Yard in
Coon Creek Junction in Coon Rapids is the busiest rail corridor in the
Twin Cities metropolitan area. In July 2009, before the Northstar
Commuter Rail commuter line began operation, this segment had hosted
63 trains per day. The
Minnesota Department of Transportation
would like to run more passenger trains through the corridor,
including Northstar and other proposed passenger rail routes like the
Northern Lights Express to Duluth. A $113.4 million project
to add a third main line and a new station at Foley Boulevard in Coon
Rapids is planned. A $99 million grant request was filed under the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to cover most of the
cost. TIGER grants are expected to be awarded on February 17,
Foley station was among cuts to the Northstar plan in 2003 while
federal funding was being sought prior to construction. Despite the
fact the 3,200-stall parking facility already existed (sans boarding
platforms), riders would not save enough time by switching from
existing bus service to rail to make the stop fit within the
guidelines enforced by Federal Transit Administration's
cost-effectiveness index. A station in Ramsey at Ramsey Town
Center was also cut prior to construction. Ramsey station construction
has since been fully funded, and construction began on March 27,
2012; it was completed on November 8 and opened on November
A major obstacle to extending Northstar to St. Cloud had been the lack
of double-tracked rail for nine miles (14 km) from Big Lake to
Becker. However, due to increased freight traffic on the line,
BNSF double-tracked the corridor in 2015. The
of Transportation says that extending Northstar would result in 1 to
1.5 million annual trips on the line. In its 2010
State Rail Plan, the agency stated an expectation of farebox recovery
ratios between 70% and 111% on the full line. However, the same
plan estimated farebox recovery ratios of just 21% to 34% on the
proposed Northern Lights Express, which in a 2007 business plan had
calculated ratios of over 100%.
On November 8, 2010, it was announced that the planned extension of
the line to St. Cloud had been indefinitely delayed. Projected
ridership is not sufficient to qualify for federal funding.
Northstar operates on one of the busiest freight rail corridors in
Minnesota with up to fifty freight trains per day plus the twice daily
Amtrak Empire Builder. Freight traffic has increased in recent years
due to the oil boom in North Dakota, with BNSF hauling the crude oil
from North Dakota through the Twin Cities. This has caused severe
delays for the
Empire Builder and Northstar. Another cause of delays
were the extremely low temperatures during the winter of 2013, which
affected the speed trains could go, how long railroad crews could work
outside, the locomotives, and signaling and switches.
Since the summer of 2014, BNSF has done maintenance on the tracks used
by Northstar in order to increase efficiency and reduce delays for
trains. Maintenance work will resume October 20 and work will be
finished by the start of winter. While there will be delays for
commuter trains up to 20 minutes when maintenance work resumes, Metro
Transit has stated that the track work will ensure the reliability of
Northstar and eliminate delays.
See also: Metro Transit rolling stock
The line opened in 2009 with five MP36PH-3C locomotives and seventeen
Bombardier BiLevel Coach
Bombardier BiLevel Coach cars. Each passenger car has about 140 seats
and room for 355 when full with standees. The coaches have two doors
on either side. Upon the opening, Metro Transit immediately
announced that a sixth locomotive was being acquired from the Utah
FrontRunner service in the
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City area and
a lease agreement was soon signed. Typical weekday operation
requires five trains, each consisting of one locomotive and three or
four coaches. A single train is used for weekend service, making three
round trips each day. The platforms are only designed for five-car
trains, so longer trains would require additional construction.
Metro Transit did begin experimenting in April 2010 with six-car
trains for taking riders to and from weekend Twins games at Target
Field. These trains overhang the platform at either end and only
open one door on each of the end cars. In May, trains serving Twins
games grew to eight cars, with some completely overhanging the
platforms so some riders would have to board and then walk from one
car to another. By June, Metro Transit had decided to purchase the
sixth locomotive it had leased from UTA due to high leasing costs and
the need to have an extra locomotive for when others are being
repaired or inspected. A $10.1 million contingency fund built into the
original cost of the service provided $2.85 million for buying the
locomotive and repainting it in Northstar livery.
Motive Power, Inc.
501–505, 512 (UTA Purchase)
Bombardier BiLevel Coach
Bombardier BiLevel Cab Cars
By October 2014, there had been at least four deaths involving
Northstar trains, with the latest being in Elk River on October 22.
There have also been two train vs. car crashes. In October 2014, a
trainset was vandalized at the maintenance facility in Big Lake,
bringing the total number of incidents on the line to seven.
Missing or empty title= (help)
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service officially begins Monday". kare11 News. Retrieved November 30,
2009. [permanent dead link]
^ a b "Minnesota's new star to begin service Nov. 16" (Press release).
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^ "Locomotive Builder". Dirty Jobs. Pilgrim Films &
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^ a b "History of Northstar". Northstar Commuter Rail. Northstar
Corridor Development Authority. 2009. Archived from the original on
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^ (July 2005), "City Rail briefs", Trains Magazine, p. 29.
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ridership drops slightly" (PDF). Retrieved 18 June 2017.
^ a b Bob von Sternberg (December 10, 2009). "Northstar ridership
below Metro Transit goals". Star Tribune. Archived from the original
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^ Article does not clearly state whether these were December 2009 or
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^ Dan West. "Anoka County
Minnesota Railroad Stations". Minnesota
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^ Dan West. "Sherburne County
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^ "Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Area 2009 Railroad Volume and Speed Map"
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Minnesota Department of Transportation. September 15, 2009.
Archived from the original (PDF) on September 2, 2012. Retrieved
January 6, 2010.
^ Elana Schor (2010-02-05). "TIGER Grant Winners to be Announced By
February 17". DC.StreetsBlog.org. Retrieved 2010-02-15.
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Coon Rapids Herald. ABC Newspapers. Retrieved 2009-02-11. [dead
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^ Sakry, Tammy (October 27, 2012). "Ramsey station will be ready for
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^ Hudson, Bill (November 13, 2012). "New Northstar Rail Station Opens
In Ramsey". CBS Minnesota. Retrieved February 4, 2013.
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^ Cambridge Systematics, Inc., Kimley Horn and Associates, Inc., and
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Minnesota Comprehensive Statewide Freight
and Passenger Rail Plan (Final Report)" (PDF).
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^ Minneapolis-Duluth/Superior: Restoration of Intercity Passenger Rail
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^ "Northstar rail line to alter its schedule". April 17, 2010.
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^ wleif (May 22, 2010). "Northstar Twins". Flickr.com.
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locomotive". Coon Rapids Herald. ABC Newspapers. Archived from the
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