Welcome to Minnesota, and the Hiawatha Line

 
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.

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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Old Greenwich

Located slightly more than 31 miles from Grand Central is today’s current stop on our tour of the New Haven Line, Old Greenwich. While touring Metro-North’s stations, we’ve encountered a couple places that have changed names over the many years the railroad has been around. Unionville, for example, was what Hawthorne was once called. Katonah was once called Whitlockville. Up until 1931, Old Greenwich was known as Sound Beach. I personally think that Sound Beach sounds a lot nicer, but perhaps the word “Greenwich” in there bestows a certain level of elevated status for its residents.


Old Greenwich station in 1946

Although we’re really here to check out the Metro-North operations here (with trains almost every half hour, taking about an hour to reach the city), the most interesting part of Old Greenwich is the station building. The stick-style building was built in 1892, and was moved to its current location in 1895. If you remember our visit to Cos Cob, you’ll notice the similarity between the two buildings. Using the same building design at multiple stations was a cost-saving measure.

 
  
 
 
   
 
  
 
  
 
 

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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Springdale


Photo of Springdale station, April 1933

Faithful readers, our tour of the New Haven Line is heading into the final stretch. We’ve featured about three-quarters of all New Haven Line stations, including Metro-North’s newest station. I figured that today would be a great day to finally finish up the branch line stations, with the only outstanding station from the New Canaan Branch: Springdale. Springdale is a section of Stamford, and the station is one of three located in that city. It is situated in between Glenbrook and Talmadge Hill, and like those stations, is relatively unremarkable and fairly run-of-the-mill in terms of train stations. New Canaan is clearly the gem on this branch.
Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line:
New Canaan Branch:


Springdale station, June 1966. Although this older station had a canopy, it was taken down when newer, high-level platforms were constructed. The station was renovated in 2010, and a canopy installed, protecting commuters from the elements.

Springdale is about 37 miles from Grand Central, and has an average travel time of just under an hour during peak periods. During off-peak hours a transfer at Stamford is most likely necessary, increasing travel time to around an hour and a half. The station doesn’t have much in terms of amenities (there are no TVMs, for example), but it does have a brand new 400-foot canopy that was built in 2010, at a cost of around a million dollars. The canopy does quite a bit to make the station look more substantial and attractive, something that fellow branch line stations Glenbrook and Talmadge Hill lack (Glenbrook, however, seems to be next in line to get an upgrade).

 
 
  
 
   
  
 
  
  

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