Light Rail Done Right!

Last week I had occasssion to be in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I never have been to that part of the country, so when Brad announced that he had to go to the Twin Cities for a meeting I jumped at the chance. Mind you I did have a couple of ulterior motives to go with him: Firstly, there was the newly opened extension of the Twin Cities light rail line and secondly, Minneapolis/Saint Paul is known for it's good restaurant scene. 

Downtown Minneapolis (Wikimedia Photo)

The Green Line extension was opened just this July. It is operated by MetroTransit and runs about 11 miles from the Target Field Station in downtown Minneapolis to the Union Depot Transit Center in downtown Saint Paul. Most of the double track line is in a center street reservation. Generally there is a about 5 to 7 inches high concrete curb next to the track to keep automobiles off the right of way.

The concrete "curb" can clearly bee seen.

Very rarely higher walls are used:


Stations are high level, at the end of city blocks. All seem to have pedestrian crossing lights, integrated with the automobile and light rail traffic lights. 

Typical Green Line station

Construction on the line started in 2010 and the first train ran on the 14th of June 2014. According to the information provided by the Minneapolis/Saint Paul Metro Council the budget for this extension was a bit over $957 million. Apparently the projected ridership numbers have already been exceeded. So much for the naysayers!

The rolling stock was bought from Siemens and is the proven S-70 modular design. Minneapolis/Saint Paul uses three section units, running in triple formation during the week. Power is supplied at 750 volts through overhead catenary. 

MetroTransit Green Line Siemens S-70

I found the trains comfortable, they are quiet and the air conditioning is certainly working very nicely. The smoothness of the track is astounding and there is no "screeching" going around sharp curves. Acceleration is amazing and they do go down the track at a good clip. 

There are no ticket machines on the trains, nor a plain fare box. Tickets must be bought at the stations from a machine.

MetroTransit Ticket Machine

The machines dispense paper tickets. Payment can be made via credit card or cash. MetroTransit also uses a stored value card like our SmarTrip card here in DC or the Oyster card in London. In Minneapolis they call it "Go To Card". One touches "in and "out" of the system at these ticket machines. Value can also be added at the machines. 

A single non-rush hour fare is $1.75. The ticket is valid for 2 and 1/2 hours. Unlimited ride fare cards, valid for 24 hours, are also available.

Now for a bit of editorializing! Why is it that Minneapolis/Saint Paul can built a light rail line of 11 miles within the space of 4 years at a bit over $957 million, including infrastructure and trains. Here in DC we started building the much ballyhood H Street line of 2.4 miles in 2009! And the trains are still not running in revenue service. DC has spent close to $300 million for 2.4 miles of track and street car units and has nothing to show for it!

DC Street Car on a "test run" (Photo by Richard Clark)This whole DC street car business promises to be another expensive boondoggle.  Who the hell thought of putting the track next to the parking lane and not in the middle of the street like any other light rail system in this country? Any large truck, SUV and big car not perfectly parked will block the street car. Not to speak of FedEx, UPS and other assorted trucks double parking while delivering. And why are we using street car technology that is now over ten years old? 

Notice the close tolerances towards the parking lane. (Photo by Richard Clark)

Here is a small video clip of the Minneapolis Green Line: