MN: Sherburne Leaders to Discuss Drop in Northstar Riders

Aug. 11--ELK RIVER -- Sherburne County officials are expressing concern about a recent decline in ridership aboard the Northstar commuter rail line, which they blame on reliability problems.

County commissioners will discuss the numbers with Metro Transit representatives and strategies for increasing ridership at the county board meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday at Sherburne County Government Center.

County Administrator Steve Taylor sent a letter to Susan Haigh, chairwoman of the Metropolitan Council, on July 18 voicing "great concern" about the Northstar line's ridership trends in the past six months.

Numerous delays in Northstar service occurred last winter due to snow, cold weather and other issues, Taylor wrote. The ridership of the first half of this year is down about 10 percent from the same period last year, he wrote.

"This is a strong indication of the eroding confidence riders have in the reliability of the Northstar service," Taylor wrote.

Northstar, which runs from Big Lake to downtown Minneapolis, had 343,901 riders in the first half of 2014 compared with 384,182 the same period last year, according to data provided by Sherburne County.

Northstar has a lease agreement with BNSF Railway to use the railroad line. Northstar's contract with BNSF includes incentives for the railroad if it meets on-time performance goals, but no penalties if it doesn't.

Taylor wrote that Sherburne County is working with other partners in the Northstar Corridor Development Authority to develop and promote ideas to help increase ridership. Counties also are working with the station cities, which include Big Lake, Elk River, Ramsey, Anoka, Coon Rapids and Fridley, to promote development oriented to transit, he wrote.

Sherburne County is asking the Met Council to take a more active role in helping to promote Northstar in hopes of regaining some of the lost ridership, Taylor wrote.

Follow Kirsti Marohn on Twitter @kirstimarohn.

Copyright 2014 - St. Cloud Times, Minn.

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