Anytime I see an article in the Star News regarding the Northstar commuter train, I read carefully and anxiously, hoping that the political speed bumps will be put aside in order to make the heavy rail an excellent option for commuters. I am not much for politics; in fact, I’d rather not discuss them at all. However, I really felt that after the last article, I needed to put this out there in hopes that those in the deciding seats will listen.
I only speak for myself and a few of my co-workers, who I know for a fact feel the same, but I can’t imagine that there are not many more people that will agree in what I have to say. When the word got out that there was going to be a commuter train that would take me from my town of Elk River to Minneapolis, I was ecstatic. I could not wait for the convenience of riding the train, sitting back, drinking my coffee, reading a book, talking with friends/co-workers, listening to my music, working on my laptop or just resting my eyes while somebody else drove to and from work.
To not have to travel on I-94 in the crazy traffic to work, or sit in the stop-and-go traffic on the way home was all I could think about. When the Northstar began running, I rode it most every day. The staff on the train and the Metro Transit Police are all very nice, and what began happening was relationships were formed between the riders and those who staff the trains. Over all, a very pleasant way to start and end the work day.
However, I do not ride the train anymore, and neither do most of my co-workers, and here is where I’d like to respond to a couple of points in the previous article. Stearns County Commissioner Leigh Lenzmeier stated he felt the reason for ridership being below expectations is due to “lower gas prices, the recession and other unforeseen factors.” For a commuter living in Elk River, gas prices would still have to drop tremendously for a person to drive to and from Minneapolis, cheaper than their daily fare on the Northstar. In addition, add in vehicle maintenance and for many, parking costs in downtown, I do not agree with the commissioner’s opinion.
Instead, I believe that Anoka County Regional Railroad Authority Chairman Matt Look nailed it on the head when he stated, “trips aren’t frequent enough, people are afraid to ride it.” In my situation, taking the first train from Elk River at 5:12 a.m. downtown to start work by 6 a.m. and working an eight-hour day puts you at 2 p.m. The first available train leaving Minneapolis in the afternoon is not until 3:57 p.m.!
I believe this is where the problem lies. I know for myself, when I am done with work I do not want to wait an hour and a half until being able to leave for home. It’s as if I am stranded. People live very busy lives; having to wait so long is inconvenient, to say the least. I believe that ridership would increase greatly if people knew they could return home in a more timely fashion.
On the flip side, the last train leaving downtown in the evening is 6:15 p.m. For some, this may not be convenient, either, if they work a longer work day or if they want to meet friends for dinner. I know from talking to staff while riding the train that it is difficult to adjust the Northstar train schedule, being that it shares the tracks with the freight trains. However, the bottom line is, if hiking ridership is the goal, then more frequent trips are a necessity. — Cara Lange, Elk River