In the midst of troubled economic times, the commuter rail line and its supporters celebrated its second anniversary by moving forward with a station in Ramsey. The move holds promise for the city and region.
From left, Anoka County Commissioner Matt Look, Ramsey Mayor Bob Ramsey and Metropolitan Council Member Ed Reynoso were among the officials on a special Northstar train from Target Field to Ramsey, where a new station is planned to open in 2012.
Northstar commuter rail marked its second anniversary Wednesday on an optimistic note: Authorities signed off on a new station in Ramsey, a boost not only for the city, but also for those who envision the line one day reaching St. Cloud as part of a regional rail network.
State, county and rail officials rode a special train that was greeted in the Anoka County city by a school band, a mascot ... everything but an actual station. But that will change. The final piece of funding for a $13.2 million station, the line's seventh, was approved by the Counties Transit Improvement Board -- a shot in the arm for Ramsey, its COR development project and those with hopes of seeing Northstar grow.
"The puzzle pieces are coming together," said Anoka County Commissioner Matt Look, chairman of the county's Regional Rail Authority and a former Ramsey City Council member.
"For Anoka County it's about the economy development and jobs -- 3,900 jobs. A decade of patience, passion and persistence has paid off."
The Ramsey station, scheduled to open in a year, is expected to attract 200 paying customers per day, nearly a 10 percent increase for a line that now attracts 2,400 to 2,600 riders per day, said Tim Yantos, executive director of the Anoka County Regional Rail Authority.
The increase in ridership will be monitored far beyond Northstar's 41 miles of track between Big Lake and downtown Minneapolis' Target Field station. Adding 51,000 riders per year would be a crucial step toward the 4,000 riders per day needed before an extension of the line to St. Cloud is considered, Yantos said.
Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin sees the Ramsey station as part of "a regional vision" that will one day enable train riders to get from Sherburne or Anoka County to downtown Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota, the airport, the State Capitol or downtown St. Paul.
This year, through Oct. 31, Northstar customers took 602,902 rides. That was 2.2 percent less than the same period last year -- mostly because there were fewer rides to special events in 2011.
Northstar's weekday ridership is up nearly 7 percent, compared with the same period last year, according to Metro Transit figures.
Yantos said that ridership growth for commuter lines has taken time in other regions. The downturn in economy -- which has meant job losses and foreclosures -- has further hampered commuter lines that were designed to take people to work.
In Ramsey, Wednesday was clearly a day for optimism.
"We've got a long way to go," Metropolitan Council Member Ed Reynoso said. "So hold on for the ride."
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419