ELK RIVER -- The future of the Northstar Commuter Rail Line will be the topic of discussion in December when county commissioners along the rail line meet with state transportation officials.

Sherburne County Commissioner Felix Schmiesing says after all of these years ridership numbers have never lived up to expectations. He says it's time to review the subsidized rail line from the ground up.

The commissioner from Palmer Township admits that it's tough to go down this path after being a strong supporter of Northstar since the beginning. But, in the end, Schmiesing says they have to be good stewards of the people's taxes...

Is that an ongoing good use of taxpayer dollars? I know one thing you'll hear from some people (will be that) there's so much federal and state money involved. But, that's all taxpayer dollars.

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Schmiesing says the meeting with state transportation officials is to put everything on the table. He says his colleagues on the Sherburne County board wanted a meeting after hearing ridership numbers have plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic...

It has clearly never achieved what we were told it would achieve. So, we've had obstacles, of course, that have come along including the financial issues of 2008 and '09 and that sort of thing. And then, of course, COVID has really created severe problems with ridership and actually changed the way a lot of people work.

The Northstar Commuter Rail Line has been running since 2009 and Schmiesing says there have been many challenges along the way which have called into question whether the trains should continue running.

The commuter rail line runs between Big Lake and Minneapolis.  There have been efforts over the years to get the trains up to St. Cloud, but Schmiesing never believed that would solve the low ridership numbers.

St. Cloud commuters are currently served by Northstar Link.  That's a commuter bus that connects people from southeast St. Cloud to the Big Lake train station.


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