I rode the North Star commuter train a couple of weeks ago to a special event in Minneapolis. It was a great experience. The train was clean (duh), cheap and on time, and dropped us off right in the shadow of the new Target Field Twins stadium. Took about 25 minutes to ride from Coon Rapids to downtown Minneapolis, at a roundtrip cost per person of $6 (weekend rates).
The only real complaint I had was the need for light rail connections downtown. After the event, the light rail station platform was jammed tight with thousands of people. Every light rail train that left the station was crammed beyond capacity, and we had to wait perhaps 1/2 hour or more in extreme cold to finally board the light rail. We made our connection to the North Star line with 5 minutes to spare before the LAST TRAIN OF THE DAY left the station. If we had not been lucky and got on the light rail, we would have been stranded in downtown Minneapolis with no way back to our station.
The staffing of the train operation was rather interesting. Those directly associated with the rail, i.e. conductors, etc- looked sharp, pleasant and efficient to a fault- right down to the guy with the shaved head, Cossack hat, and black woolen overcoat who appeared to have been sent over from Central Casting on a call for an East Berlin border crossing guard. On the platforms, a different story altogether. "Helpers" and "Information Assistants" there were people wearing vests who had the distinct shabby and dull-eyed look of recent homeless shelter alumni, and may have been the losers in a drawing for coveted positions ringing bells for the Salvation Army or flagging in motorists for downtown parking lots.
A good concept that still has a few bugs to work out. The whole experience had a distinctly European feel to it, aside from the fact that I still had some money in my pockets after the journey. I'm sure they'll address that oversight in due time.
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