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Mason City Iowa Traction Railway, Hiawatha Light Rail Line and the trip home 6/5/2017

by Chris Guenzler

We checked out of the Mason City Day's Inn and then Bill and I went to the Golden Arches for breakfast before we drove over towards the Iowa Traction Railway shops but saw something first to get a picture of.

Iowa Traction Railway History

The Iowa Traction Railway Company is the former Iowa Traction Railroad Company, is an electrically operated common carrier railroad running between Mason City and Clear Lake, Iowa, United States, and also serving Rorick Park near Mason City. It can trace its roots back to the Mason City and Clear Lake Railway, which was founded in 1896. The shops were situated in Emery, the midpoint between the two namesake towns. Passenger service began on July 4, 1897. Freight has been the major source of income since the beginning and has been the only source since the charter for trolley service in Mason City expired August 30, 1936. The Mason City and Clear Lake Railway's name was revised slightly to Mason City and Clear Lake Railroad in 1950, when new owners took over.

The name was changed to Iowa Terminal Railroad in 1961 when new owners from Michigan took over. They acquired the Charles City Western on December 31, 1963. The Charles City Division was dieselized after a tornado destroyed much of the overhead wire on May 15, 1968. Several years later the remaining trackage at Charles City was abandoned. Meanwhile, the Mason City Division continued to operate as usual. The Charles City equipment was transferred to Mason City to replace equipment burned in the November 24, 1967 shop fire. On April 13, 1987, the Iowa Terminal Railroad was sold to Dave Johnson and renamed to Iowa Traction Railroad.

Today, the Iowa Traction continues to actively operate the track between its Emery headquarters (southwest of Mason City) and the Clear Lake Junction with Union Pacific Railroad. Though track exists beyond Emery to Interstate 35 in the west and from Clear Lake Junction to 15th Street Southeast in Mason City to the east, the active portion is Emery to Clear Lake Junction.

Purchase by Progressive Rail

The Iowa Traction Railroad was purchased in fall 2012 by Progressive Rail, a shortline holding company based in Lakeville, Minnesota. Upon purchase, the line has been renamed Iowa Traction Railway. According to Progressive's President Dave Fellon, "It's [Iowa Traction] right in our wheel house [and] fits our model. It's a great little railroad." Comments by Progressive Rail officials in Trains Magazine indicate that the company plans to continue use of electric locomotives, possibly supplementing them with diesel, and that it is exploring the reopening of the line from Emery to Clear Lake.

Our visit

We pulled onto a grade crossing to take our first pictures of the day.

IATR Baldwin-Westinghouse type B steeplecab 50 Build 10/1920 for the Washington & Old Dominion Railway 1920-1948, Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Railway 1956-1963, Kansas City, Kaw Valley & Western Railway 1963 and finally Iowa Terminal Railroad. We then drove over to the shops and where we signed releases to be on the Iowa Traction Railway property. We started to take pictures inside the Iowa Traction Railway engine house.

The equipment inside.

Trolley 727. Although the IATR does not operate scheduled passenger service, it does have a single passenger car 727, which originally ran on the Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee Railroad. After the CNS&M ended service in 1963, this car went to the Iowa Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, which operated it on the Southern Iowa Railway; then, after the SIR was abandoned, it was bought in 1967 by the IATR's predecessor, the Iowa Terminal Railroad. Car 727 is occasionally used for chartered excursions.

IATR Baldwin-Westinghouse type B steeplecab 60 Built: 7/1917 for the Youngstown & Ohio River Railroad 1917-1932, Union Electric Railway 1932-1948, Mason City & Clear Lake Railway 1948 then was 1948 then Iowa Terminal Railroad 1963. Bill and I then walked outside into there yards to photograph trains moving and other electric engines on their property.

The Iowa Traction Railway engine house in Emery, Iowa.

IART 51 was switching a tank car this morning.

IATR Baldwin-Westinghouse type B steeplecab 51 Built: 5/1921 as Northeast Oklahoma Railroad 1921-1940, Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Railway 1940-1954, Kansas City, Kaw Valley & Western Railway 503 1954-1963 then Iowa Terminal Railroad 1963.

We watched IATR 51 move around the yard.

IATR Baldwin-Westinghouse type B steeplecab 54 Built 5/1923 for Iowa Southern Utilities 1923-1968, later Southern Iowa Railway then Iowa Terminal Railroad 1968. The crew than started using the IATR 51 this morning.

IART 51 and 54.

IATR 54 then started it day

One last view of IATR 51. We walked back to the rental car then drove back to that first grade crossing of the morning.

IATR 54 has a single tank car in tow as it starts heading to Mason City.

Heading to the car I snapped off one more picture as the IATR 54 heads east with us following it. IATR 54 stopped to switch a local industry and we stopped to watch.

IATR 54 pulled out 5 more tank cars to add for its train.

Views of the IATR 54 switching.

One last view of the IATR 54. A special thank you to the Iowa Traction Railway for letting us visit this unique freight railroad in America. We then headed to Interstate 35 then to the Mall of America to catch the last train rides of the trip.

Hiawatha Light Rail Line Blue and Green Line Trips 6/5/2017 Twin Cities Light Rail History

The Minneapolis-St. Paul area once had an extensive network of streetcars (operated for many years by Twin City Rapid Transit, a precursor of Metro Transit), but the tracks were removed and services were eliminated in the 1950s.

Over the years since the last trolley ran in 1954, many people have pushed for the reintroduction of rail transport in the Twin Cities. The primary reason is that traffic congestion has grown considerably since the streetcar system ceased operation: a 2003 report by the Texas Transportation Institute indicated that the area was the 17th most congested area in the country, with the second fastest congestion growth.

No new rail projects were able to get off the ground for many years until the 1990s when several factors combined to make the idea more palatable to area politicians. Governor Jesse Ventura and Minnesota Transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg heavily promoted the idea of rail transport, and significant amounts of money became available from the federal government. Previous governors had advocated light rail, but had not been able to get legislation passed. Governor Tim Pawlenty had campaigned on a promise to fight the expansion of light rail, but altered his opinions after taking office. He also initially opposed the Northstar Line commuter rail project, which is a rail corridor north of Minneapolis, but changed his mind about that project in January 2004 when a scaled-back version was shown to have good potential.

For many, the Hiawatha Avenue corridor was not the top choice for a new project. Popular other options included connecting Minneapolis with the western suburbs, though probably the most-desired option has been the Central Corridor connecting the Twin Cities themselves (Minneapolis and St. Paul) with a route down the middle of Interstate 94 or University Avenue. However, much of the land had already been acquired by the state in the 1960s to build a sunken radial expressway into downtown that was never built. In addition to the available land, the desire to connect to the airport and at least reach the vicinity of the Mall of America proved to be the bigger draw for decision-makers.

The idea of running a rail line down Hiawatha Avenue had already been around for at least a decade by the time the decision was made to go forward. In 1985, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) had produced an Environmental Impact Statement that concluded that light rail was the best alternative for the corridor. In 1996, the document was examined again as Mn/DOT looked at the possibility of adding bus rapid transit along the road, but money for light rail became available soon after, leading to the current layout.

Green Line Construction

The first construction began in late 2010, including work in downtown St. Paul and near the University of Minnesota campus. By November 2011, construction was about 32% complete, including most heavy construction such as the installation of track segments, a new bridge, partial completion of stations, a rebuilt skyway in St. Paul and the construction of Green Line facilities at St. Paul Union Station.

Due to scope of project, a venture was created by C.S. McCrossan and Ames to complete an area known as The Civil West Project. This area extended from the west side of the 35W abutment, over the Mississippi River, through the UofM campus and ending at Bedford St. From Bedford to Saint Paul, Walsh Construction served as the general contractor.

In July 2011, the Metropolitan Council officially named the Central Corridor as the Green Line. As of August 2013, construction was completed and test trains began running over the line which opened to the public on June 14, 2014.

An interesting component of the Green Line project was the complexities in design layout. Land surveyors worked directly with over twelve subcontractors to complete the work. A particular area required exclusive attention and support, that being outside the University of Minnesota's biology department. Between Pleasant and Harvard streets there was 1/8" of tolerance between design and as-builds. Control factors used in the biology labs would be impacted by the electromagnetic radiation emitted from the nearby light rail. The 1/8" tolerance is said to cancel out any EMR that the light rail may produce.

Some in favor of the line have expressed concern with the number of stations. The neighborhoods along University have demanded that the line have stations every half-mile, from Snelling to Rice Street, which would mean stations at Hamline Avenue, Victoria Street and Western Avenue. In February 2008, the Central Corridor Management Committee passed a resolution to include below-ground infrastructure for the Hamline, Victoria and Western stations "with the understanding that, if the CEI increases or other dollars are made available by mid-summer 2008, the first claim on those dollars would be one of the infill stations." The Metropolitan Council has included this infrastructure work in their Draft Environmental Impact Statement and has also committed to building one station if any funds become available.

As of 2009, the Federal Transit Administration has increased the Cost Effectiveness Index such that buildout of one station is now feasible. On January 25, 2010, the FTA announced that the three "infill" stations will be built. By 2016, five stations between Snelling and Rice Street were built - Hamline Ave, Lexington Pkwy, Victoria St, Dale St, and Western Ave

Groundbreaking for the line took place on January 17, 2001. Regular service began on the first phase of the line on June 26, 2004, with the second phase opening later that year on December 4. Each opening was accompanied with two days of free rides on the train and area buses. The line was tested for months before opening, with regular service simulated for about a month before each phase went online. The Hiawatha Line opened exactly 50 years and one week after the last regular-service streetcars ran in the city.

Busways are still being examined for many future projects and it appears likely that at least one will be built. Construction of the area's second light rail line, the Green Line connecting downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul began in late 2010 and opened on June 14, 2014. On April 26, 2011, the U.S. government announced $478 million in funding for its construction.

Our trip

Once we found the station, we bought a Day Pass ticket for $4 and walked over to a waiting train.

Our train that will take us on the Blue Line. I have already ridden the entire Blue Line bit not the newer Green Line. We boarded that train and waited to leave the Mall of America station.

Leaving the covered Mall of America station and out into the fresh air of Minnesota.

Passing a train heading into the station at the Mall of America.

Mall of America East Parking structure. My first trip here I had parked in the lot in the foreground. We stopped at the 28th Avenue station.

The train takes the next curve into the Bloomington Central station.

We met another train as we left the Bloomington Central before ran to the American Boulevard station then went under Interstate 494.

The National Cemetery in the State of Minnesota.

Next we came to the Airport Terminal 2-Humphrey station.

We next entered the tunnel under the MSP Airport runways to get us to the Airport Terminal 1-Lindbergh station.

We exited that tunnel and headed to the Fort Snelling station.

We crossed the MN Highway 62.

We crossed the MN Highway 55.

We stopped at the VA Medical Center station and met another Blue Line train. We then stopped at the 50th Street/Minnehaha Park, Minnehaha Parkway, 46th Street, 38th Street, Lake Street/Midtown and the MN 55 (Hiawatha Ave) stations.

Crossing MN Highway 55.We then stopped at the Cedar Ave, Franklin Avenue and the Cedar-Riverside stations.

US Bank Stadium home of the Minnesota Vikings and on the site of the Metrodome where I once saw the Minnesota Twins play back in 2004.

Green Line Juncton and will start my new rail mileage later this early afternoon We stopped at the US Bank Stadium station.

Two more views of US Bank Stadium.

Open air park space in Minneapolis. We made stops at the Government Plaza, Nicollet Mall, Warehouse District/Hennepin Avenue station and we arrived into Target Field station with connections to the Northstar Commuter Train line.

Two Blue Line trains at the Target Field station.

A Green Line Train waiting to come into the station here.

Entrance to the Northstar Commuter Train station platforms.

A Green Line train enters the Target Field station.

A Blue Line train leaves for the Mall of America.

The Green Line train came into the Target Field station with Bill and I boarding it and we made stops at the Warehouse District/Hennepin Avenue, Nicollet Mall and Government Plaza stations.

Another view of U.S. Bank Stadium before we stopped at that station.

Leaving the Blue line with me on new rail mileage all the way to Central Avenue in St Paul. We first stopped at West Bank station.

Crossing the Mississippi River. We stopped next at East Bank station.

The University of Minnesota which our route passes through the campus. We then made stops at the Stadium Village, Prospect Park, Westgate, Raymond Avenue, Fairview Avenue, Snelling Avenue, Hamline Avenue, Lexington Parkway, Victoria Street, Dale Street, and Western Avenue stations.

The first view of the Minnesota State Capitol Building in St Paul. We stopped at the Capitol/Rice Street station.

The Minnesota State Capitol Building in St Paul. We went by it turned right and then stopped at the Robert Street station. We made another right hand turn to get off of Capitol Hill. At the bottom we turned left to get across Interstate 94.

The Minnesota State Capitol Building in St Paul. We stopped at the 10th Street station then turned left to our final stop at Central which is Saint Paul Union Depot and the connection to the Empire Builder and the east end of the line. Bill and I just completed riding the entire Hiawatha Light Rail system.

Our Green Line Train and Saint Paul Union Depot.

A Green Line train left Central station.

Our Green Line train waits to take us back west to the Target Field Station.

Saint Paul Union Depot. We boarded and I enjoyed the ride to the Target Field Station.

Another view of US Bank Staduim on the way there. Once we got there we went down to the tracks to see the Northstar Commuter Trains.

Northstar MP36PH-3C 505.

Northstar MP36PH-3C 512.

Northstar commuter trains.

Northstar commuter trains.

Both Northstar commuter trains in the Target Field Station.

Northstar MP36PH-3C 505.

Northstar MP36PH-3C 512. We returned to the Light Rail station.

The next trolley in was a Green Line train.

Next a Blue Line train came into Target Field station.

Next the Green Line train for St. Paul left.

Our Blue Line Train came in and we boarded it for the Mall of America.

This track is how you get light rail vehicles for truck to rails.

The Blue Line train at the Mall of America after we completed the train back to there. Bill and I returned to the rental car and I put the pictures in the computer while he went shopping at the Mall of America. Bill then returned and we took the rental car back to Airport Terminal 2-Humphrey. We had a long walk back to the Airport Terminal 2-Humphrey station then caught the train to the Airport Terminal 2-Humphrey station then took the Tram to the Terminal where I breezed through Security being TSA Pre-sceened and then waited for Bill to come through. We walked to Gate G12 where we found a Volante restaurant and I had a Rib Eyed Steak. We enjoyed the meal while waiting for the flight home.

Delta Airlines Flight Flight 1785 6/5/2017

This flight was quick and I watched the Lego Batman Movie that killed most of that flight. I found out the my Penguins lost game four while I was flying home. We landed and found the shuttle that took us back to Bill car and he drove me home after an excellent adventure to ride the Milwaukee Road 261 in North Dakota.