ANOKA, Minn. — Officials from the state of Minnesota, the Northstar Corridor Development Authority (NCDA) and BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) signed a key agreement today that defines Northstar’s rights to operate along the 40-mile stretch of BNSF train tracks between Big Lake and downtown Minneapolis.
“This agreement is another significant milestone toward delivering Minnesota’s first commuter rail system, one that is in high demand among Northstar Corridor residents,” said NCDA Chair Dan Erhart.
“BNSF has a long history of working with commuter rail agencies to provide access to our right of way for passenger service while also preserving our capacity to serve rail freight shippers,” said D.J. Mitchell, BNSF’s Assistant Vice President of Passenger Operations. “We look forward to continuing to work with the state of Minnesota and the NCDA as they pursue the next steps to make commuter service in the Northstar Corridor a reality.”
This marks the completion of the NCDA’s negotiations with BNSF, achieving one of the final Federal Transit Administration (FTA) requirements necessary to secure federal matching funds for the project. Today’s events also secure terms the NCDA and BNSF initially agreed upon in 2006. The NCDA anticipates receiving federal funding approval later this year so that Northstar can open for service in late 2009.
“Today is important because it’s the result of years of hard work to take Northstar Commuter Rail from an idea to reality,” said Rep. Kathy Tingelstad, the key legislative author of Northstar legislation in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
The Northstar proposal is for commuter rail service on the 40-mile segment of existing track along Highways 10 and 47 from Big Lake to Minneapolis. Stations are proposed for Big Lake, Elk River, Anoka, Coon Rapids, Fridley and Minneapolis. It will offer a connection to the Hiawatha LRT line in downtown Minneapolis.
Democratic state Sen. Don Betzold, a key legislative author, also commended the persistence of those involved.
“The dedication of Northstar advocates, including policy makers, the business community and future riders, is paying off,” he said.
The successful NCDA / BNSF negotiations provide:
- A purchase and sale agreement between BNSF and the state of Minnesota that allows the state to acquire the right to use BNSF train tracks for the entire life of Northstar Commuter Rail. For $107.5 million, the state will buy permanent land easements, which allow Northstar to continue commuter service even if BNSF sells its assets to another entity.
- A joint use agreement between BNSF and the Metropolitan Council outlines how many trips Northstar trains will make. The schedule will include five trips from Big Lake to Minneapolis and one reverse trip each weekday morning, five trips from Minneapolis to Big Lake and one reverse trip each weekday afternoon/evening, and three roundtrips each weekend day. Special event service also can be negotiated.
- A service agreement has been worked out that identifies the terms by which BNSF may commit to operate the trains. At the end of this 10-year agreement, Northstar may consider other vendors for train crewing on-time.
A delegation agreement also was approved recently by the NCDA, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Council that provides that the Metropolitan Council will be in charge of overseeing Northstar Commuter Rail operations. The Metropolitan Council currently operates Hiawatha LRT, which will intersect with Northstar Commuter Rail in downtown Minneapolis.
“We have much to celebrate today,” Erhart said. “The signing of this key Northstar Commuter Rail agreement helps us continue to build a successful transportation system. Residents’ demand for better transportation options and the many commuters who already use Northstar Commuter Coach bus service in the Northstar Corridor show how ready Minnesotans are to ‘ride the line in 2009.'”