Northstar adds Wi-Fi service

• Some passengers getting the most of the free connection


by Laura Marrinan

Murphy News Service

Metro Transit has added onboard Wi-Fi to Northstar train routes. While some commuters are sticking with magazines and books, others are getting the most out of the free service.

The network is typically accessed by between 25 to 30 people in each Wi-Fi-enabled car and more than 400 times each day, said John Siqveland, Metro Transit public relations manager.

Rider responses have been collected from phone and email comments as well as onboard comment cards.

“Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said.

Wi-Fi has been added to Northstar commuter service
Wi-Fi has been added to Northstar commuter service

There have not been any reports of dropped connections since the Wi-Fi has been implemented, but some areas are providing quicker browsing speeds than others. Areas near downtown Minneapolis have slower connections but the Wi-Fi connection speeds up as the train moves away from the metro area.

“We’re working with Verizon to evaluate the reported slower connections closer to downtown with the goal of improving service there for our customers,” Siqveland said.

The service is only offered on the “cab car” of each train, located furthest from the locomotive. Each cab car is marked inside and out with graphics that signal the Wi-Fi-accessible areas to riders.

It cost about $16,500 to outfit the cars with Wi-Fi and has a recurring cost of about $600 each month for the service to be available on all six cab cars.

There are currently no plans to extend the service to more cars, but new extensions will be determined by the “effectiveness of Wi-Fi in retaining existing customers and drawing new customers to the line,” Siqveland said.

The Northstar train links downtown Minneapolis to Big Lake — a roughly 40-mile trip that takes about 50 minutes to complete.

“Due to the longer distances traveled on commuter rail, Northstar service is a great match for Wi-Fi,” Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb said.

The Northstar offers six trips each weekday during both morning and afternoon rush hours with stations in Big Lake, Elk River, Ramsey, Anoka, Coon Rapids, Fridley and at Target Field.