The Northstar Commuter Rail line moved a step closer to completion (expected late this year) with a March 3 station groundbreaking in Fridley. The station is one of six, so far, on the route between Big Lake and downtown Minneapolis. Located at East River Road and 61st Way NE, the station will be heated, covered, enclosed and handicapped accessible, with a pedestrian tunnel under the tracks for safe crossing. Parking lots will accommodate 611 vehicles, and bike riders who ride the train can store their bikes in lockers. A conductor will ride each train, and the station will be equipped with security cameras.
What about a Northeast Minneapolis station? So far, the stops include Big Lake, Elk River, Anoka, Coon Rapids/Riverdale, Fridley and downtown Minneapolis. Northstar and city officials had proposed a Northeast station on Seventh Avenue NE several years ago, but many residents spoke out at public meetings against the location.
Tim Yantos, executive director of the NorthStar Commuter Rail project, said that original plans for the line were cut back several years ago. “We had to cut the line in half. It originally went from St. Cloud to downtown Minneapolis.” Fridley’s station was cut, too, he added, but Fridley interests found additional funding to restore it.
Yantos said that many elected officials from the Northeast area still would like to see a Northeast station, but in a different location. He said that his experience has been that once the stations open, “a lot of people will say, ‘How come I can’t have a station?’ People are becoming more knowledgeable about train transit.”
Joe Gladke, Hennepin County manager of engineering and transit planning, said that there has been talk about an area southeast of Lowry and Central avenues, but things are still in the concept stage. “There definitely has been some interest in getting a Northeast station. Some people have asked if we could take another look at this.”
The Northeast tracks are fairly challenging, however, he added; some sections already have trains going in three directions. Another complicating factor is that more tracks may be needed in the future for passenger rail lines. There are no public meetings scheduled yet and planning is in the very early stages, he said.
County staff have contacted Burlington Northern Railroad officials for their thoughts on a location, Gladke said, but have not yet heard back.
Gladke agreed with Yantos on the growing popularity of rail travel. “The public was very receptive to the Hiawatha [light rail] line. The ridership numbers projected for 2020 were already surpassed in 2006. The demand is there. One of my fears is that commuter rail will be overly successful, and the trains will be so full that no one gets in.”