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Minneapolis: First Segment of Hiawatha LRT Line Opens

Light Rail Now! Publication Team • July 2004

"Nearly fifty years to the day that the last Twin Cities' streetcar ended its run, Minnesotans again experienced the quiet and comfortable ride of rail transit. On June 26th trains on the new Hiawatha light rail line began service from downtown Minneapolis to Fort Snelling." That's how the Minneapolis-St. Paul-based pro-transit group Transit for Livable Communities (a Light Rail Now! underwriter) describes the 26 June 2004 launch of the region's new Hiawatha corridor light rail transit (LRT) line.
[Transit for Livable Communities, July 2004]

On that date, the Metropolitan Council opened the first 8.0 miles (12.9 km) and 12 stations of the 11.6-mile (18.7-km) Hiawatha LRT project, between downtown Minneapolis and Fort Snelling. The remainder, including a long tunnel under the Minneapolis/St. Paul international Airport, is expected to be completed later this year.
[Photo: MTC]

The total project cost is now $715.3 million – a $39.9 million increase from original plans due to major expansions and upgrades added to the project. These include rerouting the line to take passengers directly to the Mall of America, and the addition of more park-and-ride spaces. Still, even at $62 million per mile ($38 mn/km), the Hiawatha LRT line is a public transport bargain, given the mobility provided, compared with other workable alternatives (such as "BRT", AGT, or monorail) – especially when one considers that, in addition to some elevated sections, the line traverses 660 feet of tunnel under Minnehaha Park and 7,400 feet under the airport.
[Minneapolis Star Tribune, 06/26/2003; Light Rail Now! 2003/06/29; map: Metro Transit]

The opening of the LRT system – the result of decades of valiant effort by transit advocates (such as George isaacs) and their political allies – generated enormous excitement and interest, with over 95,000 people riding the new line on its debut weekend. On Saturday the 26th, opening day, more than 30 thousand people lined up to crowd into the new LRT trains. At some stations, reports Pioneer Press, "people waited in line for two hours to get on the silver and yellow rail cars that swooshed from the Warehouse District of downtown Minneapolis to Fort Snelling in a little over 20 minutes."
[Metropolitan Council 2004/07/01; Pioneer Press, 27 Jun. 2004; photo: MTC]

The roaring success of the Hiawatha line continued even with the start of regular revenue service the following Monday (28 June), with fares of $1.25 for adults and $1.75 during rush hours. "We're trying hard not to be giddy" a "normally circumspect" Metro Transit official told the Pioneer Press reporter, "obviously pleased" not only over the overhwleming success of the inaugural weekend ridership (estimated at 96,000), but also over the 93,000 rider-trips carried by Hiawatha trains during their first week of regular service – nearly 70 percent above expectations. Dozens of bus routes have been timed to connect with trains at Hiawatha Line stations, making it easy to get to work, to shopping or wherever Twin Cities-area travellers need to be.
[Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2004/07/11; Pioneer Press, 2004/06/27.]

Metropolitan Council planners were expecting about 9,500 rider-trips a day to be carried on the rail line, but that level is clearly being exceeded. During the line's first week of operations, ridership increased from about 11,800 rider-trips to more than 15,000 per day.

In December, LRT trains are expectedserve an additional five stations at the airport, in Bloomington and at Mall of America. Until then, a shuttle bus will meet trains at Fort Snelling for continuing service to those destinations. Agency planners predict that, after the line is extended to the Minneapolis-St. Paul international Airport and the Mall of America in December, ridership will reach 19,300 a day, perhaps by next summer.
[Metropolitan Council, July 2004; Pioneer Press, 2004/06/27 ]

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