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Hiawatha Line Returns Rail Service to Minneapolis


July 5, 2004


Nearly 96,000 people rode Metro Transit's Hiawatha Light Rail Line in Minneapolis during its opening weekend, June 26 and 27--the first time in 50 years that intra-city rail service has been offered in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area.

Free weekend rail rides began at 11 a.m. June 26 following grand opening ceremonies at the Warehouse District/ Hennepin Avenue Station in downtown Minneapolis. Speakers at the event included Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Metropolitan Council Chair Peter Bell, and Federal Transit Administrator Jennifer L. Dorn.

Metro Transit General Manager Michael H. Setzer concluded the grand opening ceremony "with the two words every transit general manager dreams of saying: 'All aboard.'"

The initial segment of the Hiawatha Line spans eight miles and 12 stations: Warehouse District/Hennepin Avenue; Nicollet Mall; Government Plaza; Downtown East/Metrodome; Cedar-Riverside; Franklin Avenue; Lake Street/Midtown; 38th Street; 46th Street; 50th Street/Minnehaha Park; VA Medical Center; and Fort Snelling. In December, the balance of the line will open, with four more miles and five additional stations reaching Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport, the city of Bloomington, and Mall of America.

During the opening ceremony, Dorn presented the governor with a check for $12.3 million to help extend the Hiawatha Line into the Minneapolis suburbs. The federal grant will help fund the continued construction of the remainder of the line, which is expected to carry 24,000 riders per day by the year 2020.

Dorn said the Bush Administration's investment in transit would help the Twin Cities gain an economic edge. "The Hiawatha line is a well-planned and common-sense public transit solution for increased mobility, congestion relief, and economic development in the region," she noted.

U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo (DFL-Minn.), a longtime supporter of light rail for the Twin Cities, released a statement in which he called the Hiawatha Line "the start of what I trust will be a first-class, multi-modal transportation network for our area." He continued, "We're not merely completing a project. This is the beginning of a new era. . . .The Hiawatha trains are ready to roll. For that reason, the Twin Cities will never be the same."

Opening day also included special events at the light rail stations, where community groups joined Metro Transit to highlight the unique attributes of each neighborhood along the Hiawatha Line. Entertainment included visits from pro athletes and team mascots; fashion shows; tours of historic and artistic sites near rail stations; and musical and dance performances.

Following the weekend celebrations, the Hiawatha Line initiated revenue service at 4 a.m. June 28. According to Setzer, ridership that day totaled 11,800, nearly 25 percent above the system's goal to average 9,500 rides each weekday through the end of the year.

The opening of the Hiawatha Line coincided with a restructuring of Metro Transit bus service in south Minneapolis and western St. Paul to support the rail line. Setzer reported that bus ridership over the weekend reached nearly 50,000, 28 percent higher than the previous weekend. Buses operated free during the weekend.

In addition to the reconfigured routes, Metro Transit operated a "bus bridge" during the opening weekend to carry light rail passengers between stations if they did not care to wait in long lines to ride the train home.

Phase 1 of the light rail service operates with 14 Flexity light rail vehicles from Bombardier, part of a 24-car order. Each vehicle is equipped with four doorways, four luggage racks, four bicycle hangers, and seating for 66 passengers, as well as standing room for 120. The design features Bombardier's 70 percent low floor LRV technology, which positions 70 percent of the vehicle floor and all the entry ways just 14 inches above the top of the rails.

The line operates with headways of seven and a half minutes from 6 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m. (rush hours); 10 minutes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; 15 minutes from 6:30 to 9 p.m.; and every half hour from 4 to 6 a.m. and from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.

The Hiawatha Line, a $715.3 million project, is owned by the Metropolitan Council, operated by Metro Transit, and built by Minnesota DOT. Of the total project cost, $334.3 million came from the Federal Transit Administration.

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