Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.
Railroad hub of the Upper Midwest
Published: July 6, 2006
TRAIN-WATCHING HIGHLIGHTS OF THE TWIN CITIES
HIAWATHA LIGHT RAIL TRANSIT LINE
Runs from: Warehouse District/Hennepin Ave. in downtown Minneapolis along Hiawatha Avenue to MSP International Airport and Mall of America in Bloomington, 11.6 miles.
Train frequency: Trains run daily, every 7-8 minutes during rush hours, every 10 minutes between 9:00 am and 3:00 pm, every 15 minutes during the evening, and 30 minutes during early morning and late night periods.
Tickets and fares: Tickets will be sold in vending machines with proof of payment required. Fares will approximate those of buses.
Method of operation: The entire line is double track and one-person operated.
Rolling stock: The line will initially operate with 24 to 26 Bombardier articulated cars that can carry 187 passengers each at full capacity.
Don't miss: The tunnels under the MSP airport. Two tunnels were built adjacent to each other to carry northbound and southbound train traffic. Each tunnel is 7400 feet (1.4 miles) in length. Stations are being built both at the main Lindbergh Terminal and Humphrey Charter terminal. In an interesting twist, the Metropolitan Airports Commission oversaw of construction of the tunnels and both airport stations.
History: Streetcar service in the Twin Cities ended in June 1954. Almost from that date transit proponents began the push to return rail service to the Twin Cities. Many of them were members of the Minnesota Transportation Museum, which began operating restored Twin Cities streetcars over a portion of the old streetcar right of way at Lake Harriet beginning in 1971. Their years of lobbying finally paid off when ground was broken on the Twin Cities first LRT line on January 17, 2001, after years of study and controversy. The project costs $675.4 million and includes 17 stations. Service from Minneapolis to Fort Snelling began in April 2004, with service to the airport and the mall starting in December 2004. Also included in the project is a 26.5-acre maintenance facility built on the site of the Milwaukee Road's old coach yard at Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. Between Lake Street and the Metrodome, the line was built right over the Milwaukee Road right of way that once served the depot with passenger trains of the Milwaukee, Rock Island and Soo Line. So you can ride LRT cars where Hiawathas and Rockets once rolled!
Ridership: Predicted to be 19,300 per day in 2004, and 24,800 per day by 2020. However, the Hiawatha Line likely will exceed those projections since it is connected to several high-traffic generators including downtown Minneapolis (145,000 workers), the University of Minnesota (50,000 students and faculty), the airport (93,000 travelers a day), and the Mall of America (118,000 daily shoppers and employees). Metro Transit will operate the line and offer 46 bus routes with connecting service and timed transfers at 13 LRT stations.
Future: While advocates would like to think the Hiawatha Line will be the first of many LRT routes in the Twin Cities, that is far from certain. The line had many opponents and some are now holding the reins of state government, which allocates money to transit projects. Former Governor Jesse Ventura was a rail advocate, but current Gov. Tim Pawlenty is not, and his Lt. Governor, Carol Molnau, who doubles as the state transportation commissioner, is decidedly anti-LRT. A lot depends on the success or failure of this first line.
On the Web: http://www.metrotransit.org/rail/index.asp
THE MINNESOTA TRANSPORTATION MUSEUM
The "kingpin" of railroad preservation in the Twin Cities area is the Minnesota Transportation Museum. MTM, which now focuses on railroading, was founded in 1962 to preserve Twin City Lines streetcar No. 1300 and, over the years, expanded into a multi-modal transportation museum preserving buses, a steamboat, streetcars, trains, and several railroad-related buildings.
MTM's largest project is the ex-Great Northern Railway Jackson Street roundhouse in St. Paul. The roundhouse facilities at Jackson Street were originally constructed in 1882 and extensively rebuilt by the GN in 1907. Closed in 1960, the MTM has reopened the building, including returning to the site a working turntable from GN's facility at Minneapolis Junction in Minneapolis. The roundhouse also serves as MTM's equipment storage and restoration facility, with dozens of pieces of equipment on display or being restored, including three NP steam locomotives and GN 400, the Hustle Muscle, the first production SD45. The roundhouse also houses the collections and offices of the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railway historical societies.
The former Soo Line Depot in Osceola, Wis., built in 1916 and restored in 1996 by the Osceola Historical Society, is home to MTM's Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway. Operated over Canadian National trackage, trains depart to Marine on St. Croix, Minn., and Dresser, Wis., from early May through late October. Normal power for trains is Soo Line GP7 559 or Northern Pacific switcher 105, pulling ex-Rock Island open window commuter coaches and ex-Great Northern streamlined coaches. First-class service is available in a former Great Northern business car.
For information about MTM activities, call 651-228-0263. Check out MTM on the Web at http://www.mtmuseum.org-it's one of the best railroad museum web sites on the Internet.
THE MINNESOTA STREETCAR MUSEUM
The Minnesota Streetcar Museum was created in December 2004 as part of the restructuring of the Minnesota Transportation Museum, which "spun off" its streetcar and steamboat operations to MSM and the Museum of Lake Minnetonka respectively during the winter of 2004-2005. MTM, which now focuses on railroading, was founded in 1962 to preserve Twin City Lines streetcar No. 1300.
The Minnesota Streetcar Museum focuses on the preservation of Minnesota's electric railway history by acquiring, restoring, maintaining, and operating a fleet of eight historic Minnesota streetcars at the Como-Harriet Streetcar Line in Minneapolis and the Excelsior Streetcar Line in Excelsior. MSM also preserves artifacts, papers, and photographs that it uses to interpret Minnesota's electric railway history.
The group has excelled at the restoration of ancient streetcars, which it has brought back from mere shells to operating condition. Its first car (under MTM auspices) was Twin City Rapid Transit Co. No. 1300, a 1908 car that was preserved largely intact. Next the museumm acquired and restored Duluth Street Railway No. 265, built in 1915, Duluth Street Railway No. 78, a single-truck car built in 1893, and TCRT PCC car 322, built in 1946. The latest restoration project is TCRT No. 1239, built in 1907 and nearing completion. The group operates two streetcar sites, one at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis, home to 265, 322 and 1300; and at Excelsior, a western Minneapolis suburb, base for the 78 and 1239.
At Excelsior, a western Minneapolis suburb, the group operates a steamboat, the Minnehaha which also was owned by the Twin City Rapid Transit Co. The boat was used to connect with streetcars at the Excelsior docks at Lake Minnetonka, providing service to communities around the big lake. The Minnehaha was scuttled to the bottom of Lake Minnetonka in 1926, raised in 1980, and after an extensive restoration effort by Museum volunteers beginning in 1989, was returned to service in 1996.
On the Web: http://www.trolleyride.org/
THE TWIN CITIES' OWN EXCURSION ENGINE: MILWAUKEE ROAD NO. 261
After the last Burlington Route steam excursion departed the Twin Cities in September 1962, there was a long dry spell before main line steam returned to the area. Southern Pacific 4-8-4 No. 4449 paid a visit with the American Freedom Train in August and September 1975, and British Columbia's ex-CP 4-6-4 No. 2860 made a call to drum up Canadian tourism in April 1978. Finally, in 1981, the Minnesota Transportation Museum returned ex-Northern Pacific 4-6-0 No. 328 to service. The 328 traveled widely out of the Twin Cities, journeying to places like Northfield, Winona, Rochester and Hudson, Wis.
But while the 328 is an attractive machine, it is far from a mainline, high-speed excursion locomotive (and now it's out of service, stored at MTM's Jackson Street roundhouse). The Twin Cities gained such a steam locomotive when rebuilding work was completed in Minneapolis on former Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 in September 1993. The big Northern, owned by the National Railroad Museum of Green Bay, Wis., and operated by the non-profit "Friends of the 261" has plenty of power to handle main line trips and usually makes one or two excursion runs each year. With its matching train of passenger cars painted in traditional Milwaukee Road orange and maroon, and with Skytop observation Cedar Rapids bringing up the rear of the train, the 261 has become a popular attraction for steam-starved fans. The locomotive and cars are based at the former Great Northern diesel shop at Minneapolis Junction, where most excursion trains originate. More information can be found at the "Friends" web site.
The Top 10 Train Watching Sites in the Twin Cities (in this writer's opinion)
1. Hoffman Avenue, St. Paul has variety-BNSF, Canadian Pacific, Twin Cities & Western, and Union Pacific traffic daily, and scenery (Dayton's Bluff as a backdrop). The only problem is access. Since the railroads have tightened security it's no longer possible to park on railroad property to watch the action.
2. Kellogg Boulevard Bridge, downtown St. Paul. The bridge overlooks the old St. Paul Union depot wye, now the busy Division Street interlocking where BNSF's St. Paul Sub and CPR's Merriam Park Sub split. You can park at the south end of the bridge and walk up the sidewalk to catch the action-which is best in the afternoon.
3. University Avenue, Minneapolis. At the south end of Northtown Yard, you can watch BNSF trains arrive and depart, UP and CPR trains head for Duluth-Superior (and transfers of both roads), and CPR freights head east or west from the Paynesville Sub. Photographically it's not the greatest, but it is a nice place to park and just "watch 'em roll by."
4. Westminster overpass, St. Paul. This bridge overlooks BNSF's Midway and St. Paul Subdivisions just east of Westminster Tower, the only tower still standing in the Twin Cities area. Eastbound trains on Track 2 of the St. Paul Sub can be seen popping out of a tunnel under a hill and the Midway Sub. If you're really lucky you'll might see two trains here at the same time. A new bridge is being built to the north directly over Westminster Tower that might offer even better views.
5. Coon Creek Junction in Coon Rapids. The junction between the BNSF's Staples and Hinckley Subdivisions, Coon Creek offers the opportunity to watch BNSF's high-speed, transcontinental main line trains, as well as BNSF, CP and UP trains coming off the Hinckley Sub. The junction is easily viewed from public property.
6. Park Junction, Minneapolis. The crossing of BNSF's busy St. Paul Sub and Minnesota Commercial's main line offers heavy-duty main line action plus Alcos and GEs on the Commercial.
7. The Black Bear Crossings Coffee Café, 831 Como Avenue, St. Paul. The outdoor deck at the Black Bear sits a few feet from BNSF's St. Paul Sub and you can really get a feel for the action as westbounds grind uphill. A pleasant plus is the café's policy to provide free refills of the "coffee of the day" when a train goes by!
8. Wayzata, a western Minneapolis suburb. Want to enjoy a cold one while watching trains? Grab a seat along the windows at Sunsets Restaurant in downtown Wayzata. It's hard by BNSF's ex-Great Northern Wayzata Sub. In the summer you can get a seat on the outdoor patio that is even closer to the action. If you're not in the mood for food, then wander down the street to the restored Wayzata GN depot, completed in 1906. When it opened, the station was admired for its steam heat and indoor plumbing. Its half-timbered Tudor exterior, terrazzo floor, and white enameled brick interior look much like they did when the depot was built. It's home to the chamber of commerce and the Wayzata Historical Society. If you like steamboats, you can catch the Minnesota Transportation Museum's restored streetcar boat Minnehaha at the depot dock for a trip to Excelsior on the south shore of Lake Minnetonka. To top it off, the Wayzata Sub runs right along the lake through town-shoot from the depot dock (westbounds in afternoon) or at the dock near Sunset's (eastbound in the morning).
9. Hastings, Minn., 20 miles east of downtown St. Paul. Looking for that small town "railroad" feel? Hastings is the place. It has a single main street as small towns used to, complete with a railroad depot at the foot of downtown. Located on the CP's former Milwaukee Road River Sub, Hastings offers trainwatchers the depot and the crossing of the Mississippi River with a lift bridge still adorned with Milwaukee Road logos. There's even a local based here to do switching that still uses a caboose. If you get tired of CP, BNSF's St. Croix Sub is just across the river.
10. Shakopee, Minn. If you hanker for street running, Shakopee offers the chance to watch UP Mankato Sub freights heading right down the street, plus a long-closed depot. There isn't a lot of train traffic, however.
Other things to do:
Walk or bike across the Great Northern's Stone Arch Bridge.
The legendary Stone Arch Bridge over the Mississippi River was opened in 1883. The bridge once carried passenger trains of the Burlington, Chicago Great Western, Great Northern, Northern Pacific and Omaha Road across the Mississippi to Great Northern's Minneapolis depot. The 2,100-foot bridge has been converted into a hiking and biking path and offers great views of the river and downtown Minneapolis.
Tour James J. Hill's house
James J. Hill, the legendary "Empire Builder" who built the Great Northern Railway, lived in a St. Paul mansion at 240 Summit Avenue. The firm of Peabody, Stearns and Furber designed the house, and Hill oversaw its planning, construction, and furnishing. Completed in 1891, the mansion was the largest and most expensive home in Minnesota. It boasted 36,000 square feet on five floors, plus 13 bathrooms, 22 fireplaces, 16 crystal chandeliers, a two-story art gallery, a 100-foot reception hall, and elaborately carved oak and mahogany woodwork. Today the Minnesota Historical Society owns the home where guides lead tours to help you imagine family and servant life in the mansion. Tours of Hill's home are one of the Society's most popular attractions and reservations are recommended. Phone 651-297-2555.
Steve Glischinski compiled this guide. Mike Cleary, John Gohmann of the Minnesota Commercial, Gene Hetherington, Jesse Kottner, Nick Modders, and numerous employees of railroads in the Twin Cities assisted with research and field checking. For more on Twin Cities railfanning, check out the December 2003 issue of TRAINS Magazine, featuring a Trackside Guide to Minneapolis-St. Paul, with photos, maps, route information, and more!
Glischinski, Steve. Minnesota Railroad Guide. Shoreview, MN, published by the author, 2001
Hidy, Ralph W., Hidy, Muriel E., Scott, Roy V. with Hofsommer, Don L. The Great Northern Railway A Histoyr. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 1988
Luecke, John C. Dreams, Disasters, and Demise: The Milwaukee Road in Minnesota. Eagan, MN: Grenadier Publications and John C. Luecke, 1988
Luecke, John C. The Great Northern in Minnesota The Foundations of an Empire. St. Paul, MN: Grenadier Publications and John C. Luecke, 1997
Prosser, Richard S. Rails to the North Star. Minneapolis, MN: Dillon Press, 1966