Met Council abruptly halts Northstar rail rides to Twins games

Photo: Jennifer Simonson – DML – Star Tribune

The Minnesota Twins have canceled the opening game of the 2022 Major League Baseball season due to bad weather. Accordingly, Metro Transit canceled Northstar commuter rail service to the stadium in downtown Minneapolis, not only for the home opener, but potentially for the entire season.

Northstar faces a daunting forecast of its own with some elected officials openly questioning its viability, following drastically tanking usage during the pandemic. Three counties along the commuter rail line are among the entities that subsidize Northstar to the tune of up to $15 million annually. Yet the Met Council has singled out Anoka County as the culprit behind the newly announced suspension of train service to Twins games, according to media reports.

“At this point, Metro Transit would like to be able to provide more Northstar service including to Twins games, but cannot prudently take on additional costs of doing so without receipt of operating funds expected from Anoka County, the largest county funding partner for Northstar. The Metropolitan Council continues to work with Anoka County regarding Northstar service levels and the county’s funding commitment,” a Metro Transit spokesperson told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

Prior to this, the troubled train line had already significantly cut overall service by about 70 percent, operating just two round trips per weekday between Big Lake and Minneapolis. Anoka County officials insist the Met Council’s decision to eliminate service to Twins games has no direct connection to county payments. In fact, the county claims a draft operating 2022 plan provided by the Met Council last fall already excluded service to the stadium.

Anoka County added that “In the 2022 operating agreement Metro Transit provided to Anoka County, which we received in October of 2021, eight weekday trips were budgeted, with no weekend or special event trips planned.”

At the same time, county officials have questions about the amount and terms of their subsidy payments, due to the up to 95 percent decline in Northstar ridership during the pandemic. Ridership nosedived to under 50 round trips per day of service in 2021. The total number of riders hit rock bottom at 50,400 last year, compared to nearly 800,000 at its peak in 2018.

The county also said it doesn’t have any signed funding agreement with Metro Transit for 2021 or 2022 and highlighted Metro Transit’s “drastic” pandemic-related drop in ridership. Additionally, the county said that drop in ridership led it to ask Metro Transit for adjusted costs in the fall of 2020 and says it just received those adjusted shares for subsidizing Northstar last week. Officials are still reviewing those adjusted figures.

The Met Council might want to revisit the decision to eliminate passenger service to Target Field and step up to the plate. Nearly 82,000 fans rode Northstar to watch the Twins play in 2019, far more total passengers than the ailing commuter line carried all of last year.