Metro Transit to add more Northstar trips to lure passengers

A blue and yellow train approaches a station.
The Metro Transit Northstar train pulls into the the station at its last stop in Big Lake, Minn., on April 1, 2021.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2021

Metro Transit is adding more weekday trips on the 40-mile Northstar commuter rail line between Minneapolis and Big Lake.

Beginning Oct. 2, the rail service will make three southbound trips each weekday morning, and three northbound trips each weekday afternoon. There will also be a train heading in the opposite direction every morning and afternoon.

Ridership aboard Northstar plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, Metro Transit cut back on the number of trains that operated each day. Currently, just two trains run in each direction every weekday.

Current and prospective riders said they’d be more likely to ride more frequently if the service provided additional trips, Metro Transit spokesperson Drew Kerr said.

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As more workers return to the office in downtown Minneapolis, Metro Transit has seen increased ridership on buses and trains, said Brian Funk, deputy general manager and chief operating officer.

“We want to give this a shot to really say we’re going to put out some more service, see how our customers like it, and then we'll be willing to make adjustments down the road,” he said.

Northstar also will offer trips before and after Minnesota Vikings home games beginning with the Oct. 8 game against Kansas City.

The rail service provided about 50,000 rides through July of this year, up 20 percent from the same period in 2022.

But ridership remains much lower than before the COVID-19 pandemic, when Northstar was providing more than 3,000 trips a day on average.

The public subsidy per passenger aboard Northstar remains high at $173 per trip last year, up from $19 per trip in 2019. Funk said they’ll continue to try to drive that number down.

“What we’re trying to do now is as we add these trips, being mindful that we need to be able to provide more service to induce demand, and hopefully be able to shift some of those travel patterns,” Funk said.

Funding to continue operating the Northstar line had been a point of contention in recent years, with Anoka County officials disputing its share of operating costs amid the cuts in service and ridership.

Beginning Oct. 1, funding for Northstar will shift to the 0.75 percent metro-area transportation sales tax the Legislature approved this year.