Northstar Commuter Rail Facts

Immune from traffic and weather

Imagine a 40-mile commute with no traffic headaches, weather delays, parking inconveniences, or wasted gas. That’s what the Northstar Commuter Rail Line provides. 

Metro Transit’s Northstar Commuter Rail (Route 888) runs 40 miles between Big Lake – northwest of the Twin Cities metro area – and downtown Minneapolis (Target Field Station), with stops in Elk River, Ramsey, Anoka, Coon Rapids, and Fridley. 

The train service, which logged more than 787,000 rides in 2013, operates on freight-rail tracks. The estimated travel time of the entire route is 49 minutes. This makes Northstar a fast, reliable, safe and affordable alternative to driving. On the train, passengers are immune from highway congestion and poor weather conditions so travel time doesn’t vary – no matter how heavy the traffic gets. 

Regular weekday service is designed for commuters and is available during the morning and afternoon peak-travel periods. The morning commute period features five inbound trains and one outbound train; the late-afternoon and early-evening commute features five outbound trains and one inbound train. There are three roundtrips each weekend day, with special event service available throughout the year. Metro Transit schedules additional trips to provide Northstar service to all Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings games and other large downtown events. 

photo of passengers on the Northstar rail

Linking to a regional system 

photos of Twins fans getting off of the Northstar railCommuters in the northwest metro can access a range of transit options through Northstar. A number of bus routes connect to Northstar stations, providing access to destinations across the metro area. 

Northstar also connects with the METRO Blue Line and Green Line at Target Field Station in Minneapolis. Commuters can ride the METRO Blue Line to the Metrodome, Fort Snelling, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America. The Green Line connects commuters to the University of Minnesota, Saint Paul's Midway district and downtown Saint Paul. 

Commuters in the St. Cloud area also have access to Northstar. The Northstar Link commuter bus service – operated by St. Cloud Metro Bus - runs seven days a week between St. Cloud and Big Lake. Link buses are timed to meet Northstar trains at Big Lake Station. 

The Minnesota Twins Northstar Link (Route 887T) runs during Twins baseball home games. At the scheduled departure time, or 30 minutes after the last departure for special-event service trains, fans are able to board the train to Big Lake and easily transfer to the Northstar Link bus to finish their trip back to Becker or St. Cloud. 

Fares 

Weekday fares range from $6 in Big Lake to $3 in Fridley. Weekend trips range from $5.25 in Big Lake to $2.50 in Fridley. Northstar passengers can transfer to light rail and buses for free, but transfer from buses and light rail to Northstar require an additional fare.

Fares are valid for 2.5 hours from time of purchase and must be purchased before boarding the train. Ticket machines are on each station platform. Go-To Cards, Metropasses, U-Passes and Go-To College Passes are accepted at Northstar stations. 

Northstar Roundtrip Family Passes provide rides for two adults and up to three kids age 6-17 (kids five and under ride free). Cost depends on the station. Passes are valid from time of purchase and expire at midnight and can be purchased at ticket machines at any suburban Northstar station during hours of train service. 

Amenities for a smooth commute 

photo of a Northstar rail conductor speaking into a phoneEach train consists of a locomotive and typically four passenger cars. Northstar reaches a top speed of 79 miles per hour. Each passenger car has three levels with approximately 145 seats per train car and additional space for standing. The cars have the following amenities: 

  • Comfortable seating
  • Onboard restrooms
  • Work tables and electrical outlets
  • Onboard bicycle storage
  • Transit schedule and connection information
  • WiFi access 

Each train trip has an engineer and a conductor. They are in radio contact with one another and with train dispatch. As duties permit, the conductor moves about the train to answer customer questions and check fares. In an emergency, passengers may summon the conductor by using the push-to-talk intercom on the entry level near the doors. Northstar offers park & ride lots at all stations along the route except Target Field. The Elk River Station has the most parking spaces (754), and the stations collectively have a total of more than 3,000 parking spots. 

Funding 

The Northstar Commuter Rail line opened in 2009. It cost $320 million and was funded by the federal ($161.9 million) and state ($98.6 million) governments, the regional rail authorities for Anoka ($34.8 million), Hennepin ($8 million) and Sherburne ($8.2 million) counties, the Metropolitan Council ($5.9 million) and the Minnesota Twins ($2.6 million).