Map of the Hiawatha Line in a horizontal format. The line runs roughly north-south, so everything has been rotated to display the stations this way.

When it comes to travel, I am always a fan of the odd and interesting – generally off the beaten track. After all, one doesn’t normally consider burning towns, sketchy Zimbabwean train stations, or big blocks of ice customary destinations for diversion. So when I recently decided to visit Minneapolis, I had been asked by at least one person why. Had I run out of interesting places to go? No, not really. While I am looking to visit the few states I haven’t yet been to (one of which was Minnesota), I honestly thought that the Minneapolis area sounded interesting. I had made plans to check out the Mall of America (and their rollercoasters!), and of course, to ride the light rail. At the time I didn’t realize how much I would love Minneapolis’ light rail system… and I am totally admitting it here. I love the Hiawatha Line.

Admittedly, from railroading point of view, a light rail system like the Hiawatha Line isn’t the most interesting thing to watch. But Minneapolis is big into public art, and obviously their fairly new rail system would be no exception to that. I think it is the blend of rail infrastructure and aesthetic beauty that has captured my interest. Everything about the system, right down to the bricks on the platform, seems designed to be visually pleasing. It is amazing how simple things, like a few colored windows, or the aforementioned bricks arranged into colorful patterns, make such a great impact! But not everything would fall into the category of “little things” – in some instances the station artwork is huge. Downtown East – Metrodome station, for example, has towering patterned arches that dwarf the station itself. The piece evokes the image of the historical Stone Arch Bridge, only a few blocks away. Trains, art, and nods to history? No wonder why I love this place!

The next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing many of the photos I took while riding the Hiawatha Line. I managed to get to more than half of the stations, and a few of the attractions located near the train. An awesome thing to note is that there are actually self-guided city tours designed around the Hiawatha Line, which I made use of on my first day wandering around. Along with an audio device, the tour gives you a pass to ride the rails all day, allowing you to roam and disembark wherever you desire. The tours even work if you are in Minneapolis for just a short time, like an airport layover, since the airport is well-connected to the train line.

So here’s a short photographic intro to the Hiawatha Line… many more photos to come!

Typical area of operation for the Hiawatha Line. Much of the trackage runs parallel to streets, including Hiawatha Avenue, from which the line’s name derives. Other portions of the line, especially at the south end in Bloomington, are at the center of divided highways. The line is just over 12 miles, yet by my count has 39 grade crossings (FYI, the Harlem Line has fewer grade crossings, and is 82 miles long!).


Typical view of the inside of a Hiawatha Line train car, which are produced by Bombardier. Most times two car trains are the norm, but special events (like Twins games) will warrant trains with additional cars.


Typical ticket machine on the Hiawatha Line. Machines are programmed to work in four different languages: English, Spanish, Somali, and Hmong.


Platform views on the Hiawatha Line. An important part of the system is the low-level platforms, which match up with trains with very low floors. The gap is almost non-existant as well, allowing people in wheelchairs to board trains without assistance.


Another important feature of the system is the public art. Most stations have some sort of artistic flair, if not obvious works of art, like the above arches at Downtown East – Metrodome station.

7 Responses

  1. Holger says:

    I like that bunch of photos very much (actually, I like all the pictures in this blog)!

    I was in Minneapolis some weeks ago as well and took the chance in between the work sessions to do some shots of rail related stuff over there.

    Unfortunately I had to go by plane to MSP – the AMTRAK trip would have taken to much time – a shame.

    There’s no comparison to your photos, but enough to show my folks in Germany something about rail over here:

    Keep on ‘knipsen’,

    • Al Cyone says:


      I enjoyed your pictures of the Walkway Over the Hudson (which is not far from my home in Ulster County) and the High Line park (which I visited for the first time this week).

      Hopefully Emily’s long-awaited tour of the Hudson Line is imminent.

  2. Bob says:

    I’m guessing you didn’t manage a ride on the Northstar though. The stations weren’t as interesting as the Hiawatha Line, but the on-board bathrooms have to be the cleanest I’ve ever seen on any public transport. I rode both the Light Rail & Northstar on the day when there was a Twins game, so had a packed Hiawatha train both directions (but still managed a seat each way) & my own private rail car on the Northstar (I headed outbound as the game was starting and arrived back just as it ended). Kind of weird on the Northstar, multiple conductors, but they don’t check any tickets (I think the police do random checks).

    • Emily says:

      Yeah, the whole ticketing thing felt like it was pretty much on the honor system. Supposedly there are police that check, but I certainly didn’t see them. I bet there are so many people that get free rides.

      Unfortunately I didn’t get to even see the Northstar. I went to their platform at Target Field, but it was the weekend and they didn’t have too many trains running.

  3. Emily says:

    I know, right? I don’t think I’d want to go there, or even Chicago for that matter, in the winter.

  4. Nick Benson says:

    Winter’s not that bad if you dress for it; I know from personal experience that nobody will even notice if you ride in full Carhart snow bibs.

  5. Stefan Perrino says:

    love the public art. tells a lot about the character of the place and its people.

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