MN: Green Line Debut: 45,000 Rides and Just as Many Memories

June 15--Like many Minnesota commuters, Stanley Gordon West rode a Green Line train for the first time on Saturday's opening day. He had been waiting to board for about fifty years.

West, 82, lives in Shakopee but grew up in St. Paul in the 1940s and '50s. He was an avid commuter on the streetcars that ran throughout St. Paul, Minneapolis and beyond.

While he said the Green Line "was a lot more fancy," he looked nostalgically out the window as the train made its way through St. Paul on Saturday and said, "The farther we go, the more I see places I used to go. They're still here."

Saturday marked the grand opening of the Green Line light rail, a $957 million transit project that connects the Twin Cities' downtowns.

The trains will run 24 hours a day, shuttling riders the 11 miles between Union Depot in St. Paul to Target Field Station in Minneapolis. It's the metro area's second light-rail line. The first, the Blue Line, began service in 2004 and stretches from Target Field to the Mall of America in Bloomington.

While rain and damaging winds prompted the early cancellation of most opening day festivities, the line's debut was largely without problems, according to Metro Transit spokesman John Siqveland.

"The weather was a little discouraging, but it didn't dissuade our riders. We had 45,000 during the first eight hours of service, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.," Siqveland said. "Our station celebrations, we had to wrap them up a little early, but Union Depot just kept going until all the music acts wrapped up. We had hundreds of people in there all day."

There were no mechanical or technical issues with the trains, though there was a "slight disturbance" about 3:30 p.m. when a woman drove her vehicle onto the tracks and got stuck near 12th and Minnesota streets in St. Paul, Siqveland said. "We were able to get trains around her while we towed her away," he said.

There were no major public safety or law enforcement incidents Saturday, though police were prepared.

There were ambassadors at each of the line's 18 stations and about 300 law enforcement officers patrolling the corridor, Siqveland said.

"Things went extremely smoothly," he said.

Prior to the Twin Cities' light-rail lines, it had been 50 years since Twin Cities commuters rode urban trains. More than 500 miles of streetcar tracks once connected the region, including far-flung suburbs.

"You couldn't go four blocks in any direction without running into a streetcar stop," Stanley West said. "I wouldn't have gotten anywhere in the world without them."

On his ride Saturday, West noted that the major differences were the quietness and smoothness of the light-rail trains compared to the streetcars he remembered.

"The streetcars, they clanged in a certain way," he said. "You could tell when there was a lot of people on them and when they were less full just from listening."

Most riders who took advantage of the free Green Line service on Saturday were less nostalgic and more excited about the commuting benefits.

Su Sritunyalux, who is pursuing her master's degree in technical communications at the University of Minnesota, took the train Saturday to meet up with other students and friends.

She said she's grateful for the Green Line because "it's really useful for students to take. It saves my gasoline. I'm going to take it everywhere."

She added, "I'm so excited to be a part of history."

Others took the trains out of curiosity and for the experience.

Anna Niewierowicz came from Wisconsin just to ride the trains for the day.

"Why not, right? Because it's free today I'm going to use this thing to go all over the place all day," she said. "In the first place, this is a very important event. I happen to come from Los Angeles, California, and things like this (the LRT) are very important for large cities, and I also lived in Europe where they have wonderful transport. ... That's why I'm out here. It's a monumental, historical point."

There won't be any festivities Sunday, but the Green Line remains free to riders until midnight.

For more information, visit metrotransit.org.

Elizabeth Hernandez can be reached at 651-228-5495. Follow her at twitter.com/literally_lizzy. Elizabeth Mohr can be reached at 651-228-5162. Follow her at twitter.com/LizMohr.

Copyright 2014 - Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

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