Central Corridor Light Rail – What’s left to do before we can ride the Green Line?
By Barb Thoman, Executive Director
Many Twin Cities’ residents are eager to start riding the new light rail transit service in the Central Corridor, the Green Line. People see completed sections of track, beautiful new stations complete with lights and signage and wonder why the line isn’t opening until 2014. Several of you have even called to ask us this. In response, we did some checking and here is what we learned. Despite excellent progress on construction (more than 68 percent complete!), there are still major things left to do before the line can begin serving passengers.
The light rail cars – Metro Transit has ordered 47 light rail vehicles (LRVs) for the Green Line. The first one was recently delivered, and will be unveiled officially on October 10th at Target Field Station in Minneapolis. Rail cars will continue to be delivered at a rate of about 2-3 vehicles per month over the next year. As each car is received, it must be fully tested and commissioned for service. This will involve running the LRVs on the Hiawatha Line in the airport tunnel segment to test mechanical and system reliability.
Electrical substations – Fourteen traction power substations will convert alternating electrical current to direct current which will power the light rail vehicles. Installation of the substations began in August 2012, and is ongoing at a rate of one per month.
Completion of stations – If you have not checked out the Green Line stations lately, you might be surprised! The West Bank Station is particularly impressive. All of the 18 stations should be structurally complete by the end of 2012, but additional work will remain to install technology systems such as electronic signs and ticket vending machines. Installations of station artwork has begun, but most of the art will be installed in 2013.
Train power and signals systems – While most of the civil construction, including tracks and station platforms, will be completed by the end of this year, much work remains to be done on the systems that will power the trains and that will control train movements. Poles for the overhead catenary system that holds the power lines are being installed now, but the power lines themselves will not be installed until 2013. Also in 2013, the signal system that train operators will follow and that will warn drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians of approaching trains will be installed.
Crews are already installing catenary poles along the light rail line, but corresponding power lines will follow next year.
Vehicle maintenance Facility in downtown Saint Paul – Construction is underway, but much work remains to be done to get this $43 million facility ready to store and maintain light rail vehicles.
Hiring and training of rail operators and vehicle mechanics – The addition of the Green Line will more than double the size of the light rail operation in the region! This means that many more train operators and rail vehicle mechanics must be hired and trained. This will take place over the course of 2013 as the new light rail vehicles are delivered, so that staff is ready to begin integration testing and pre-revenue operations in early 2014.
Testing, testing, testing – Once all the systems and staff are in place, a detailed series of testing must be completed to make sure that all the different project elements (trains, systems, operations facility, signals, and switches) communicate with each other, that everything is working properly and ready for service. This testing will take about 4 to 6 months to complete. Finally, just before the line opens, several weeks of pre-revenue testing will take place, with trains running their final schedules, but not carrying passengers. Oh, how frustrating that will be! But it will also signal that only a few weeks of waiting remain before we can all ride the new line.
Connecting bus service – Metro Transit recently released a nearly final plan for improved bus service that will connect with Green Line stations. On October 10th, Metro Transit will host an open house to answer questions about this revised service plan. The Metropolitan Council is expected to approve the plan this November after which staff will undertake the process of writing the detailed schedules route by route and trip by trip. The new schedules will take effect at the same time that Green Line services starts up in 2014.
The amount of work required to get this new line up and running may seem daunting, but we expect crews will continue to make excellent progress as the Central Corridor light rail project moves forward. In the meantime, we will eagerly await the opportunity to hop aboard in 2014!
Thank you to the Central Corridor Project Office for contributing to this article. Specific thanks to Robin Caufman, John Levin, and Ted Axt. All featured images are courtesy of the Metropolitan Council.