D.J. Mitchell, assistant vice president, Passenger Operations, said the new commuter service is expected to make a significant difference in traffic congestion in the northwest Minneapolis metropolitan area.
"This has been a long-term effort involving the railroad, the state of Minnesota, the Northstar counties and communities," Mitchell said. "Everyone in Minnesota involved in this has done a very good job in setting this up to have a tremendous impact. They really thought it through and have coordinated their planning with all aspects of public transportation -- bus and light rail."
The new service will run six trains a day roundtrip. Employees began training for the commuter service several months ago and made practice "runs" in preparation for on-time performance.
The new commuter rail will run from downtown Minneapolis, Minn., through Fridley, Coon Rapids/Riverdale, Anoka, Elk River to Big Lake. An extension of the service to St. Cloud is also being studied. Mitchell said the commuter service connects in downtown Minneapolis with the existing Hiawatha light-rail service that goes to Mall of America and the airport.
"As in Seattle, the downtown station is built near the new stadium in Minneapolis," Mitchell said. That location will help provide light-rail service for some sports events.
BNSF employees provide dispatching, track maintenance and train operations. "We're very proud of our people who have been training for this and who have worked for several years to make the improvements to track and signals, making this service possible," he said.
BNSF employees were also involved in the construction of the rail itself. Chris Pickard, project engineer, coordinated the construction effort. An estimated 200 BNSF employees -- mostly track and signal -- contributed to the construction effort. Transportation employees worked hard to provide generous work windows. Employees upgraded 42 miles of track in preparation for the commuter service. The work included new crossovers, turnouts, high-speed switches and main track, as well as an upgraded signal system.