Designers are hurrying to finish plans for the Fridley rail station, the most expensive and last station to be built before the Northstar Commuter begins running in November 2009.

Northstar's first $2.6 million diesel locomotive already has been delivered to the line's maintenance facility in Big Lake on the northern end of the 40-mile line, and four more engines and 17 passenger cars are to arrive by spring. Most of the line's other stations are nearly complete.

But the $9.9 million Fridley station, between East River Road and Main Street at 61st Avenue, was a late addition to the project, having been killed earlier because of a federal funding shortage. In late October, the Counties Transit Improvement Board, which oversees spending of the new quarter-cent transit sales tax approved this year by the state Legislature and five metro-area counties, decided to make the Fridley project one of its first funding priorities. It awarded the $9.9 million needed to revive the project.

The Fridley station's specifications are due to be completed shortly, and officials hope to award bids in January so work can begin as soon as the ground thaws, said Tim Yantos, executive director of the Anoka County Regional Railroad Authority.

Back from the brink

The Federal Transit Administration, which is paying for about half of the $320 million line, had dropped the Fridley station from its funding after Northstar's costs increased above initial estimates. The federal agency allowed the station to be built only if it wouldn't delay opening of the line that will carry commuters from Big Lake to Minneapolis in less than 45 minutes.

To keep the project alive, Fridley spent nearly $3.2 million for 10 acres, mostly for parking, on the east side of the station at 61st Avenue and Main Street, said Paul Bolin of the city's Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

The money came from leftover tax increment revenues from three other projects, a source approved by the Legislature, Bolin noted. Anoka County's rail authority chipped in another $645,000 for parking space on the west side of the station by East River Road.

The Fridley station will be the only one of six stops on the line to have a pedestrian tunnel under the tracks and three elevators that will carry passengers to the platform. The 400-foot-long platform will have three glass-enclosed heated shelters.

"It will be one of the most exciting projects to happen here in quite a while. It provides a lot of opportunity," Bolin said.

After more than eight years of planning and seeking funding, "We are finally getting to the fun part of the whole project. ... Ideally, it will be a catalyst for more retail and housing development."

Other work nearly done

Stations in Big Lake, Anoka and Coon Rapids already are largely complete and will get finishing touches in the spring, said Ken Stevens, a Northstar consultant.

The $5 million Riverdale stop in Coon Rapids was built next to an existing park-and-ride Metro Transit parking lot off Northdale Boulevard behind the Riverdale Target. The station has a four-story bridge, with elevators at each end, to take riders over the tracks to reach inbound trains.

Work continues on the Minneapolis commuter station next to the new Twins ballpark, as well as at the Elk River stop, which will have 800 parking spots and has already attracted development.

Elk River's three-story Pullman Place for people 55 and older stands across the street from where workers were pouring concrete for the station platform last week. More than 50 twin and town homes also have been built behind Pullman Place in the past few years, said Jeff Gongoll, Elk River community development director. The city set up Northstar Business Park near the station a few years ago, and another business opened there in October, he said.

"That is big for us because it brings a lot of jobs," Gongoll said.

The train service

The Northstar line, operated by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, will make six round trips each weekday and three on weekend days. A typical train will consist of an engine pulling four coach cars, each with capacity to seat about 150 people.

More than 5,200 passengers a weekday are expected to ride the Northstar, including 500 through the Fridley station alone.

"I think you will see a lot more people get off the train in Fridley," Bolin said. He noted the city has 29,000 jobs, including many at Medtronic's world headquarters.

Bolin said Medtronic and other employers have discussed providing shuttle service to Northstar station.

Jim Adams • 612-673-7658