Train facility in Big Lake begins work on $4 million project

BIG LAKE, Minn. (AP) — Officials have started work on a $4 million development project at the Northstar Operations and Maintenance Facility in Big Lake.
The Northstar commuter rail line travels between Big Lake and the Twin Cities and also links to St. Cloud via bus service.
Anthony Hebert, the commuter rail director at Northstar, said that construction on the first phase of overhauls started in April and will continue to November, the St. Cloud Times reported.
The changes will permit staff to renovate Northstar’s six locomotives and 18 commuter rail cars starting in 2024 or 2025.
Business, education, faith and local government groups would like to see the Northstar route expanded to St. Cloud, but state legislators haven’t decided on funding to make it work since the train started operating 10 years ago.
Minnesota lawmakers are considering a bill that Rep. Dan Wolgamott proposed this year that would pay for the necessary groundwork to lengthen the route. The House approved the bill. Legislators are now trying to resolve differences in the related House and Senate bills.
The Metro Transit budget is currently subsidizing the work in Big Lake, Hebert noted.
“We knew once we went into operation with Northstar, down the road we’d have to make improvements to the shop to reach that 30-year mark, to maintain safety and operations,” he said.
The passenger cars and locomotives will need vital items replaced and improved in future years.
Ryan Stellmach, the maintenance supervisor at Northstar, noted that their employees clean the vehicles every night and examine all of the wheels, brakes, doors, speakers and windows.
“We don’t have a lot of failure repairs,” Stellmach said. “We do a lot of preventative maintenance.”
Hebert added that it takes roughly eight hours to hoist up one of the cars so mechanics can work on it. The development this year will cut that time in half.
___
Information from: St. Cloud Times, http://www.sctimes.com