It’s too bad the extension of the Northstar Commuter Rail appears to have fizzled, but three cheers for GRIP/ISAIAH, an interfaith partnership that is rallying mightily to get the rail extended. That group will host an information meeting and rally from 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12 at the St. Cloud Convention Center. Show your support; attend that meeting.
At one time the northernmost station was to have been in Rice. As it is, the northernmost station is now Big Lake, 30 miles south of St. Cloud and from the cities in the greater St. Cloud area.
According to Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, the snag in extension plans is mostly due to the fact federal funding will be difficult to obtain for the project. Dayton said any time a planned project is halted midway, the federal government is reluctant to resume its share of the funding. Another reason, we’re told, is Northstar’s ridership numbers are not high enough to justify federal funding.
If the St. Cloud area were to become part of the service, ridership numbers would certainly increase, thus justifying the costs.
The Northstar Commuter Rail now connects Big Lake to Target Field in Minneapolis, with five stops at stations along the way. At Target Field, people can get off the train and then board either the Blue or Green extension lines that go through both Minneapolis and St. Paul. Riding those three lines (and buses) is inexpensive, far less than driving vehicles and minus the hassles of traffic and parking.
The Northstar line was a long time coming. Plans began way back in 1997. Finally, in 2009, the work got underway, with the $317 billion funding coming from the federal government, the State Legislature, the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council and entities that included the railroad authorities of the counties of Anoka, Hennepin and Sherburne. The Minnesota Twins also contributed $2.6 million to the project since its ball field is right next to the Minneapolis terminal.
Northstar service, on rail lines leased from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, opened for passengers Nov. 16, 2009.
Last year, ridership on the Northstar was a total of 721,214 individual trips taken. It’s a nifty way to travel and would be even niftier if it extended to St. Cloud.
Yes, there have been problems with delays at times, with the increasing number of oil trains using the rails and with the extremely cold winter of 2013, which caused glitches of several kinds, including having to run the trains slower.
However, those kinks and glitches seem to have been worked out satisfactorily for the long term.
Northstar would be an excellent transportation alternative for people in the greater St. Cloud area. Even now, many either drive to Big Lake or take the Metro Transit connector bus from East St. Cloud to Big Lake to board Northstar. Imagine how convenient it would be if a connector station were right here.
Northstar would be ideal for those who find jobs in the Twin Cities areas or in cities along the route. It is also a good option for the growing number of senior citizens who don’t feel comfortable any longer driving in the Twin Cities area. For example, there are people in the Sartell Senior Connection, a senior-citizen organization, who now and then plan cultural-educational day trips to the Twin Cities. They car-pool and drive to the Big Lake station, and they have a ball during their getaway trips.
Extending Northstar makes sense on every level, especially considering the greater St. Cloud area is a metro area, thus should logically be connected by rail to that other metro area, the Twin Cities.
Let’s urge legislators to work hard to support the Northstar extension. For more about GRIP/ISAIAH and its rail-extension efforts, visit www.centralmncw.org.