The first week of March, I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in an externship program for three days with a St. John’s alum who works with the city of Minneapolis. While planning for this opportunity, I ran into a problem. I would be on spring break during the time and back home in Sauk Rapids. What would be the best solution for commuting down to the Twin Cities? Driving and parking would be a big expense, and staying down in the Twin Cities would cost even more. Eventually though, I came across a solution – the Northstar Link.
I know many people around the St. Cloud area have heard of the Northstar Link train, but if you haven’t it’s a line that runs from Big Lake to Target Field in Minneapolis. The train runs on the half hour for several routes in the morning and then in the afternoon for the commute back to Central Minnesota. It also runs special routes for events such as Twins games and Vikings games.
Though the Northstar train itself leaves from Big Lake, it also utilizes buses to pick people up from stops in St. Cloud and Becker so you can park and ride, saving you from driving and spending on gas. For the days I commuted I parked at the bus stop near the new Kwik Trip in East St. Cloud. The bus picked up at 6:30 a.m. and then got to the Big Lake station where I’d transfer onto the train. All in all, I would be in downtown Minneapolis by 8:15 a.m., not a bad amount of time, even with the train making stops at several places like Elk River on the route to downtown.
Along with the convenience, I also couldn’t beat the cost. Going round trip from St. Cloud to Minneapolis and back again was $11 per day. Driving down more than 70 miles to the Cities, parking in a ramp and then driving back again would cost much more than that. For the amount of money I would have had to spend on gas and parking over three days of driving to Minneapolis, the Northstar Link was an easy choice.
Overall, it was a good experience and I was glad I had the Northstar as an option to use. It made getting to and from the Twin Cities very convenient and cheap compared with my alternatives. It was also great for getting some extra sleep or working on some reading for my classes. This was really helpful because it was time I wouldn’t have had to work if I was driving and needing to pay attention to the road.
This leads into recent discussion about whether Northstar could be extended to St. Cloud. While the debate about the cost continues to be an issue, I think the concept itself could be a good investment for the St. Cloud area and provide an alternative to the long and costly drive to the Twin Cities. I think with the right kind of promotion and awareness, a significant rider base could be built. It could essentially “pay for itself,” serving commuters and day trippers and reducing congestion on I-94. On the three days I rode, the train was about three-fourths full so there is already a large amount of people who use it. I especially think of the benefit a St. Cloud-to-Minneapolis train could have for students, especially for out- of-state students in Central Minnesota who can’t otherwise make it to the Twin Cities and the airport.
Northstar was a great option for me to travel down to the Twin Cities and I would highly recommend it as an option for commuting. It is extremely economical as well, saving a lot of money versus driving. It also creates extra time in your day to work and get stuff done while riding the train. I would encourage people to give Northstar another look; I’m glad I did.
Connor Kockler is a student at St. John’s University. He enjoys writing, politics and news, among other interests.