Ken and Ellen Anderson say they can't wait to take the Northstar Commuter Rail line to the Target Center station in Minneapolis, but they're not sure where to get on board. Or when.

The Andersons, both 65 and retired teachers, live in Foley, in Benton County.

"We know they have a station in Big Lake," Ken Anderson said as he peeked into the Counties Transit Improvement Board booth in the grandstand at the State Fair. "Now when are they going to get to St. Cloud? That's what we've been waiting for."

As visitors head to the grandstand booth to ask questions, read leaflets about regional transit and receive free bright-green shoulder bags, officials say there's a movement afoot -- involving rail.

"Enthusiasm is higher than ever, markedly improved over previous years," Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said Friday by phone.

"Northstar ridership is up weekdays by more than 10 percent over last year. We've seen enormous ridership on the Hiawatha line. There's development along that corridor despite the recession. Now people are saying it's amazing along the Central Corridor" that will connect downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul along University and Washington Avenues.

Publicists Jill Brown and Jeff Dehler have taken turns manning the State Fair booth. They've been asked about extending Northstar another 30 miles west to St. Cloud. They've been asked about parking for the Central Corridor. They've been asked if a mass transit rail line could be built to Mankato or Faribault. Or if a southwest line to Eden Prairie would disturb the bike trails.

"But the question we hear most often is, 'How soon?'" said Brown. "Or they ask, 'Can you do it even faster?'"

People want to see more

Bill Trudeau, 60, of Lino Lakes, took a park and ride to the fair. A retired railroad worker, he would love to make the train his primary means of transportation.

"But in Lino Lakes, there really isn't anything there for me," he said.

Holly and Mark Caskey of Maplewood also wanted to know about additional bus and rail lines. She's the director of safety for a freight-moving truck company. He's a consultant who works out of their home.

"I have a metro pass provided by work," Holly Caskey said. "I'm used to taking public transportation. I'd like to see more of it."

"But make it cost-effective," her husband interrupted.

Some potential train riders wanted to know when a station in the city of Ramsey might be built and open, Brown said. Some were curious about the proposed Northern Lights Express passenger rail line from Minneapolis to Duluth. Many asked the same about the Central Corridor, Dehler said.

"You do one line, people see the benefits and soon, you're creating a system," said McLaughlin.

"We've connected downtown Minneapolis to the Mall of America, to the airport, to the VA hospital. We'll connect to Eden Prairie, to Hopkins. We'll go to St. Paul, to the university and ultimately get you to St. Cloud.

"The region is moving. Perceptions are moving. We're seeing that in our booth and with a lot of politicians. Having said that, there are some who want to go backwards. But the public and the business community see the benefits."

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419