The last Northstar commuter train of the morning arrived at the Target Field station just after 8 a.m. today, continuing a largely glitch-free operation of Minnesota's first long-distance commuter rail line.
"It went fine again today -- no operational issues," said Bob Gibbons, a Metro Transit spokesman. "Knock on wood."
Metro Transit staffers planned to meet late this morning to dissect the first two days of operation, "but I don't expect we'll find any problems," Gibbons said.
During Monday's first day of Northstar's operation, it was a day to test connections and, in some cases, see what it was like just to ride a train.
"This is my first train trip," said Julie Schlangen, 31, on her way from St. Cloud to her job at the St. Paul Public Library. "I want to see how it works."
So did government officials, taxpayers and other commuters who had endured a nearly 13-year wait, a $317 million price tag and political derailments before Monday's maiden voyages on the 40-mile Northstar commuter line. Some passengers, like Schlangen, awakened hours before dawn for the novelty of taking that first train out of Big Lake, in Sherburne County. By the afternoon, though, most passengers seemed to have found a routine already, settling in to work on laptops, read, call home or just gaze into the urban night as the doors closed on the train's first day.
Metro Transit reported that more than 2,400 paying customers rode Northstar trains Monday. On a typical day, the line is projected to have 1,700 passengers each way.
Jim Hadfield, 58, of Big Lake, who works in sales in Minneapolis' Warehouse District, thinks the daily $14 round-trip fee may be more expensive than driving down Interstate 94. "But this is less of a hassle, definitely less stress," he said.
At Target Field, extra transit employees were on hand to shout directions to arriving passengers: "Light rail to downtown this way! Enter the skyway system at the 5th Street parking ramp!"
Planners of the Northstar line have been touting it as a way to get to the airport, and Mike Kaufman of Coon Rapids didn't waste any time giving it a try. Rolling suitcase in tow, he boarded Northstar at 7:42 a.m. (after a mad dash across the skyway at the Coon Rapids station) and transferred to a Hiawatha train to catch his 10:30 a.m. flight to Cincinnati. He expected to save nearly $100 on airport parking and spent $4 for his train ticket.
"Technically, I can get two hours of work done on my laptop -- an hour each way -- and I never could have done that in my car," said Vicki Domka, of Becker, who was riding her first train of any kind. "I can't believe how smooth this ride is."
Brent Neeser's 7-year-old seeing-eye dog, Boomer, was a picture of contentment as the Northstar train glided along while passengers smiled and smirked as they watched the stop-and-go traffic on Hwy. 10, which runs parallel to much of the rail line through Sherburne and Anoka counties.
A few snags
Trains were on time -- the first one arrived three minutes early -- but the first day was not entirely free of glitches. At Target Field, the doors of the 7:10 a.m. train didn't open for a few minutes, so its more than 300 passengers were stuck inside. Once they made their way upstairs to the Hiawatha station, light rail wasn't there to greet them because of a mechanical problem. A replacement Hiawatha train left the station at 7:25.
During the afternoon rush, there were some frantic dashes for closing doors, some doorway stumbles and even a few people who missed trains and had to wait for the next one. Only one person missed the final train, arriving at Target Field two minutes late on a connecting light-rail transit train.
The morning door delay was because of a conductor error, Gibbons said. "You can bet that won't happen again," he said.
Susan Sullivan of Andover hopes not. "When I got to the Government Center, it was 10 minutes later than my bus ever got me there," she wrote in an e-mail. "And I will be paying $2 more each day for the 'privilege' of riding this."
Gibbons said about 45 percent of the riders arriving in Minneapolis headed to the light-rail station, which also had its debut today, extending the Hiawatha line by three blocks. Nearly half the morning riders, had boarded at either Elk River or Coon Rapids.
Not every Northstar rider went all the way to Target Field, however -- Metro Transit reported that 32 morning riders were going between suburban stations.
Chuck Nyberg got on with his bicycle in Elk River and off in Anoka, where he works as an engineer. Keith Holkestad got on in Coon Rapids and was heading west to Elk River, where he works as a surveyor.
Drew Kniffin, 28, who lives in downtown Minneapolis, had a job interview in Elk River, with Northstar and his bicycle getting him there.
The sole outbound morning train to Big Lake had 44 customers when it headed northwest at 6:05 a.m. Kate Pound of St. Paul, was one of them and had one of the more complicated commutes. She rode her bicycle to a bus stop, transferred from the bus to a light-rail train and then to Northstar at Target Field. She departed the Big Lake station via a Northstar Link bus to her job as a geology teacher at St. Cloud State University.
"It's great, it's cheaper, I'm doing the right thing in terms of my carbon footprint," she said. "But what if I'm late and miss my connection in Big Lake? As long as I don't get stuck, this is the way to go."
Vlad and Genny Kedrosky, both 73 and retired teachers from Edina, said they got up at 2 a.m. and drove to Big Lake, just for the novelty of taking the initial 5 a.m. train to the Target Field station. They described themselves as "rail fans with nowhere to go." But they seemed to reach their desired destination.
"This was great," Genny Kedrosky said. "Even better than we'd hoped."