Saturday, November 28, 2009
Riding The New Northstar Rail Line (Didn't Anybody Think To Clean Up The Graffiti?)
Last weekend my son, Alex, and I took a trip on the new Northstar rail line to Big Lake, Minnesota. It was the same weekend we deforested the grassy boulevards of NoMi, yanking up every wooden "We Buy Houses" sign in sight. (On Thanksgiving weekend, we made a splendid bonfire and roasted marshmallow Peeps)
The trip on the Northstar was fun and memorable...and pretty cheap, too. If you're a service-connected disabled vet, you can ride for free. The line starts at the new Twins Stadium, Target Field, which is in North Minneapolis. (NoMi) I swear, every time I turn around this place is becoming even cooler.
Two things remained with me from the trip:
1.) Wow. Great rail line. I'm looking forward to actual fun destinations popping up along the route, so I have an excuse to go to Big Lake, Fridley, Elk River or Anoka. Otherwise, the trip is incredibly anti-climatic, especially Big Lake. The rail line ends in a parking lot, near a field where there is actually agricultural irrigation equipment in sight. You get to the end of the line and have a feeling of, OK, what now? (See photo, above)
The Orient Express it IS NOT. But wouldn't it be cool if all the local farmers established weekend farmers' markets all along the train route? At the very least, I'd like to see a few signs explaining why I should bother getting on a bike and riding to, for example, downtown Fridley. What can I buy there? Candy? Antiques? A movie? From the train station, I can't see much reason to venture out.
2.) Good grief. When the rail line was launched, didn't it occur to anybody that...
...it would be a good idea to go along the rail route in a systematic fashion, and get rid of all the graffiti?
I mean, I've read newspaper articles about the Northstar, and how there is a hope of building ridership to make the rail line cost effective. Well, if somebody gets on the train at Big Lake--just on a lark, just to see if they could have some fun up the line in Minneapolis--what kind of impression is that passenger getting to see Minneapolis as a graffiti-scarred urban dystopia?
Another good reason for graffiti vigilantes to just do their thing.
Also, the train should have some kind of snack vendors, or snack machines or, I don't know, SNACK ACCESS. But, all in all, it's fun to ride the train and go so far, for so little money, and hear the classic cry of "All aboard!"
Here are some photos from our little father/son trip:
We were confused at first when we got to Target field, but all it took to get us unconfused was a little bit of explanation: the light rail line which goes to Mall of America has been extended beyond the Warehouse District/Hennepin Avenue, and now goes all the way to Target Field. Simultaneously, the HEAVY RAIL Northstar Line starts at Target Field and goes to Big Lake.
Above, my son pictured with the light rail at Target Field and with me, his father, in front of the Northstat. This summer, we celebrated extended summer visitation with a trip all the way to "the end of the line." Well, next summer we'll have to celebrate by going to Target Field...and then maybe to Big Lake, again! (Hopefully, by that time, there will be something at Big Lake worth seeing)
Above, my son enjoys the view on the train...sort of.
Below, this is the first thing I saw at Big Lake...two people wandering around near the engine, as though trying to find something to do. This photo really captures that sense of, "OK, we're here...what now?"
Last, how can you ride a train with a camera and not take some cool railroad pictures? Here are two of many MANY that I snapped while riding.
When the train returns to Minneapolis from Big Lake, the engine actually PUSHES the train instead of pulling it. There is a small window at the front where you can see an "engineer's eye view" of the tracks. So cool! The Northstar Line is a fun day trip, but be sure to pack a picnic lunch!