RIDING THE GREEN LINE | 8 a.m.
For the first time in 60 years, passengers today will be able to board trains in downtown St. Paul and disembark in downtown Minneapolis.
The first Metro Transit Green Line light rail trains are set to depart simultaneously from nine stations along the 11-mile route at 10 a.m. It’s the second main light rail line to open up -- what’s now called the Metro Blue Line opened in 2004.
The almost $1 billion Green Line runs from Union Depot in St. Paul to Target Field in Minneapolis. But it represents just a piece of an extensive train system envisioned by the Metropolitan Council that, like the area’s streetcar system that closed in 1954, could one day connect far-flung suburbs on opposite sides of the Twin Cities.
Initial planning for the Green Line started as long ago as 1981, according to the Metropolitan Council. It hasn’t been without controversy.
Construction resurrected memories of past transportation projects that residents blamed for demolishing neighborhoods. And small businesses run by immigrants sometimes felt like they were being pushed out as construction roiled University Avenue. Even as the line is set to open, some critics of the light rail line haven’t given up. They’re planning a protest at 9 a.m.
But at most of the stops along the route, the atmosphere will be festive. Transit authorities have planned celebrations throughout the morning and afternoon at nine stations. They’ll include live music, food and even a pub crawl. All Metro Transit trains and buses are free this weekend to celebrate the opening.
I’ll be riding the rails all day long, telling the stories of commuters, train critics or enthusiasts and whomever else I run into. Check mprnews.org throughout the day to see our updates. If you see something interesting happening, or a particularly striking scene, don’t hesitate to let me know on
UNION DEPOT, St. Paul | 9:50 a.m.
Gwen Peterson is a former resident and current employee at the city of St. Paul. Sometimes when she leaves work, downtown seems like a ghost town.
The opening for the green line is huge for the city, she said.
"It's really going to explode the activity levels in downtown," Peterson said. "It's really going to do things for downtown St. Paul that I don't think anyone has imagined yet.
Peterson had come out to Union Depot to ride the first train with her daughter and granddaughter, who live in the city.
The trade off for her granddaughter for waiting under the grey skies and sprinkling of rain: the trains they board will take them shopping at the Mall of America.
UNION DEPOT, St. Paul | 10:00 a.m.
If Kirsten Riehle (left) of Roseville wants to take public transportation to her job, just two miles from her house, she has to ride at least one bus into downtown St. Paul and then transfer to another -- just so she can head back in the direction she came from to get to Maplewood. She says it would take more than an hour.
Riehle and her daughter Luisa were first in line to board the first Green Line train leaving from Union Depot.
"We just need more public transportation," Riehle said. "I'd rather not be driving my car, but in Minnesota it's just not feasible for me to ride my bike all winter."
The mother and daughter won tickets to be the first riders on the Green Line, which is offering free rides all day, and had been looking forward to the trip ever since. They were there on behalf of Kirsten Riehle's father, a streetcar enthusiast who works at the Transportation Museum.
Riehle is hopeful about public transportation in the Twin Cities. She said she hopes the next light rail line goes to Roseville.
"I wish they hadn't taken out all the old streetcar lines," she said, of the transportation system that served the entire Twin Cities until it was closed in 1954. "If that were still there, we'd be set."
WESTERN AVE. STATION, St. Paul | 10:43 a.m. Members of the Minneapolis dance group Silver Skies prepare to perform at the corner of Western and University Avenues during the light rail opening celebration. That corner will play host, Saturday Night, to the first Little Mekong Night Market, which will continue throughout the summer. (Judy Griesedieck for MPR News)
UNIVERSITY AND WESTERN AVENUES, St. Paul | 11:05 a.m.
Susan Schwegman lives in Minnetonka to be close to her parents. But the former Chicago resident misses the easy transportation options she had while attending Northwestern University.
"Being able to walk out the door, get on the train and go downtown, that's something you don't get in suburban life in Minnesota," Schwegman said.
A recent survey from the Rockefeller Foundation found that younger Americans prefer to live in areas with good transportation options.
Schwegman rode one of the first Green Line light rail trains leaving Union Depot. As passengers grasped railings to avoid taking a tumble during the unexpected lurches of the new train, Schwegman said the line will factor into where she decides to live next.
"It's helping me consider moving more into the city," she said. "I miss that easy transportation and not having to drive or pay for gas."
And the Twin Cities light rail system does have advantages over Chicago's 'L.'
"It's really a lot cleaner and a lot smoother," Schwegman said of the Green Line. "But this is a brand-new train, so it's probably at its best today."
HAMLINE AVENUE STATION, St. Paul | 11:39 a.m. With temperatures in the 60s and the skies scattering wind and rain across the Twin Cities, Saturday's weather put a damper on Green Line festivities. At the Hamline station, the wind forced booths to come down early. (Judy Griesedieck for MPR News)
WESTERN AVENUE STATION, St. Paul | 11:40 a.m.
Kathy Mouacheupao is selling paj ntaub, or Hmong needlework, at a tent outside the Green Line's Western Avenue Station.
"They tell stories of Hmong people going to the refugee camps in Thailand and then coming to America," Mouacheupao said.
The art form originated in the refugee camps as a way to earn money. But there's a broader cultural reason for it, too.
"It's one way to document our history because we don't really have a written language," Mouacheupao said.
Her mother, Sy Vang Mouacheupao, makes the paj ntaub. Some of the needlework documents people's experiences as refugees, detailing activities like swimming across the Mekong River.
Mouacheupao said the Green Line coming to the neighborhood is one more step in the long journey taken by people of Hmong origin in the Twin Cities.
"It would be really interesting to see a new generation of paj ntaub makers that included the Green Line," Mouacheupao said, "to really express the Hmong-American experience."
VICTORIA STREET STATION, St. Paul | 12:20 p.m.
Construction of the Metro Green Line took a bite out of business at The Best Steak House, near the line's Victoria Street Station.
"Construction was rough," said longtime owner Mike Hatzistamoulos. "We were about 20 percent down."
But as the line opened Saturday, every table at the restaurant was packed, and Hatzistamoulos was moving at lightning speed to keep the steaks and fries coming.
"I like it," he said of the Green Line. "It's a new University Avenue, a better University Avenue."
For the rest of the weekend, The Best Steak House is selling a T-bone steak for $8.95 -- a Green Line special.
UNION DEPOT, St. Paul | 10 a.m.
The launch of the Green Line marks the culmination of the largest public works project in Minnesota history.
Peter Rogoff, acting undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, told the crowd gathered at Union Depot for the St. Paul kickoff that the project has national significance.
"It's an important part of our vision for the future," he said. "There's going to be 100 million more people in the United State by the year 2050, and if we do not develop more projects like this, we are going to struggle to have an economy that supports jobs for those 100 million people."
Transit supporters say they hope this won't be the last light rail project. The Metropolitan Council is working to develop a rail line from downtown Minneapolis to the southwest metro suburbs. Critics say the cost of light rail projects is too expensive for the number of people who use them.
(Tom Scheck | MPR News)
DALE STREET STATION, St. Paul
Critics of the Green Line often say they're concerned the cost of the trains isn't worth the number of people who will ride it. Supporters of the project say they hope the line convinces policy leaders to build additional rail lines in the Twin Cities.
Steve Ellenwood, of Woodbury, says the cost isn't worth it. He and a few others were protesting the new line at a rail stop near the corner of Dale Street and University Avenue in St. Paul. He said transportation officials should focus less on rail and more on bus transit and cars that eventually drive themselves.
"Why are we worrying about going back to what is really 1800s technology, something on rails, to say we're moving forward?" Ellenwood said. "That's not forward, that's backwards."
Transportation officials say light rail transit is popular among younger people who don't want to spend money on gasoline and parking. They also say they believe the trains will spur economic growth along the rail line.
(Tom Scheck | MPR News)
CORNER OF UNIVERSITY AVENUE AND DALE STREET, St. Paul
Ron Whyte is the co-owner of Big Daddy's BBQ in St. Paul's Frogtown neighborhood. Business owners along University Avenue are hoping the Green Line will bolster spending at storefronts along its route.
Whyte says he was skeptical of the rail project at first, but is now hoping increased foot traffic will result in more business. He's pleased his fellow business owners along the line have spent money to improve the area.
"I think it's going to be a great thing for St. Paul and University Avenue here where I'm located, just to see people trying to spruce up," he said. "The neighborhood looks better."
The Metropolitan Council estimates that there has been $2.5 billion invested in development along the rail line.
(Tom Scheck | MPR News)
VICTORIA STREET STATION, St. Paul | 12:40 p.m.
When Melvin Emanuel Jr. was growing up in St. Paul, he remembers gardening and growing veggies with his father. But when he moved back to the neighborhood in 2006, near where the Green Line's Victoria Street Station is now located, things were different.
"People weren't eating as healthy or growing anything like they were when I was a kid," Emanuel said.
That change for the worse inspired him to get involved. He's a certified master gardener through the University of Minnesota extension services and an outreach volunteer for Frogtown Farm. He reaches out to kids in the neighborhood straddling Frogtown and Rondo to teach them about gardening and healthy food.
"Sometimes we are in the garden and we think we're pulling weeds, but we're talking about trouble they're having with Math, or how one teacher is too strict," Emanuel said. "It's not really the concept that they should have a yield; sometimes the yield is not visual, it's a mental yield or physical stimulation of moving."
He envisions the Green Line as a hub for healthier living in the neighborhood. The 3.5-acre Frogtown Farm is just a six-block walk from the light rail.
"We're hoping that people are getting off here, walking down the street, and coming back with bags of fresh produce," Emanuel said, "or just visiting our urban farm, to come there for a relaxing, stimulating retreat, or to remember growing up in the country."
UNION DEPOT, St. Paul
Phillaine Ellingson was one of the first people in line to ride the train in downtown St. Paul. She said she moved to downtown Minneapolis a year ago, and thinks the train will help her visit different parts of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
"I love it," she said. "I can walk everywhere or take the bike. Now I love that I can take the train all the way in both cities because I love St. Paul, as well."
The trains will run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
(Tom Scheck / MPR News)
ON THE GREEN LINE | 2:13 p.m.
Children cling to adults' waists for stability on a packed Green Line train. In spite of rainy weather, curious families came out in large numbers to get their first ride on the Green Line and check out soggy venues at the various stations.
(Judy Griesedieck for MPR News)
Students will be an important group to the Green Line's success. It travels across the Washington Avenue Bridge, connecting the University of Minnesota's east and west banks.
Emma Rohleder is a student in ecology who was waiting for a train to St. Paul on Saturday afternoon. The Calgary, Canada native has watched the light rail construction for the last year from her workplace in Stadium Village, and was excited for the opportunity to finally ride the train.
In the past, she's purchased a transit pass through the University that allows unlimited travel. She said the light rail's presence on campus makes the pass an even better value.
The line also makes it easy for students to commute to school without a car, even if they love outside traditional student neighborhoods, which have themselves seen a boom in housing construction in recent years.
Rohleder said it could influence where she and her friends are willing to travel.
"I never usually go to St. Paul because it does take so long," Rohleder said. "But now that there's a light rail that goes there, I think it's so much more accessible."