For the first time, ridin' the rails

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April 24, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

An intrepid reporter goes on an LRT field trip

Eddy Malinowicz is a third-generation rail man.

His grandmother cleaned train cars in Boston, and his father worked on a line near New Haven, Conn. Malinowicz has grown familiar with tracks all over the country. Before coming to Minnesota, he drove commuter rail trains in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

He's traded in palm trees for snow-packed terrain to help launch the Hiawatha Light Rail Transit (LRT) line, which begins partial service in April from Downtown to Fort Snelling.

The seasoned rail man, who has a thick Boston accent, took a pack of reporters and photographers on a special sneak-preview ride late last month, 65 days before the train will begin carrying passengers this spring. LRT officials hope to launch the line April 3.

The journalists boarded the sleek yellow and black train with the eagerness of a pack of schoolchildren on their way to a field trip. They waited for Malinowicz at the 46th Street and Hiawatha Avenue station in South Minneapolis.

They huddled together for a few minutes under small heat lamps at the still-glassless station that did little to spare them from the subzero wind chills. Then they boarded the four-car train and took in the sights.

Malinowicz was peppered with questions as he started the train. The car moved quietly down the tracks at speeds around 40 mph. He appeared confident and at ease as the train cut through Hiawatha Avenue on its way to Downtown.

When asked about his work, he smiled and said, "Every day is different. The railroad is a dynamic place."

For those accustomed to driving into Downtown day after day, the cityscape can become a blurry backdrop. But on the LRT, the city takes on a new dimension. The train allows riders to sit back and absorb all of Downtown's details that can get taken for granted.

The LRT entered Downtown near the Metrodome, hugging 5th Street until it reached its final stop just past Hennepin Avenue at the Warehouse District Station.

The train traveled quietly through the heart of the city. The train's stealth-like quality has prompted LRT officials to launch a campaign called, "Look, Listen and Live."

Metro Transit police have cracked down on jaywalking and traffic violations along Downtown's LRT stretch. As part of the safety campaign, officials urge motorists and walkers to stay off the tracks and obey traffic signals near the rail line.

At the end of the ride, back at the 46th Street Station, Malinowicz graciously allowed a Skyway News reporter to take his seat and ring the bell alerting passersby to the train's presence.

Swedish design

As for aesthetics, the train had a Scandinavian austerity.

Joe Marie, a Metro Transit assistant general manager for rail operations, wore a pale blue and yellow tie matching the fabric of the seats on the train. The train is based on a Stockholm model.

Marie, another Bostonian, rattled off facts about the Bombardier-manufactured train. The 94-foot-long train can carry up to 104,000 pounds, or 180 passengers (66 seated).

There are four bike racks inside, along with luggage racks. Electrical current running above the line powers the trains.

When full service begins in December, the train will make 17 stops, including four in Downtown along 5th Street: the Warehouse District/Hennepin Avenue station, Nicollet Mall, Government Plaza in front of City Hall and the Downtown East/Metrodome Station.

The LRT line spans 12 miles. A train ride from Downtown to the Mall of America is expected to take 35 minutes.

Each station has its own distinctive style, reflecting the surrounding neighborhood. The fee schedule for the LRT is the same as Metro Transit buses. Ticket vending machines at the train platforms will be multilingual, offering instructions in English, Spanish, Hmong and Somali.

The train Malinowicz operated is among 24 cars that will zip along the LRT line. The frequency of the trains depends on the time of day. During rush hour (6 to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.) trains will run every seven minutes; from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., trains will run every 10 minutes.

Late at night and early morning, trains circulate every 30 minutes. There will be no service from 1-4 a.m.