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Trip Report Air to Rail connection across Minneapolis-St. Paul

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I wanted to share what I recently learned, in case any of you are thinking about trying something similar. I needed to make a one way trip from St. Louis, MO to Minot, ND. Time was not really an issue for me.

First, I booked a plane ticket out of St. Louis that stopped in Minneapolis - St. Paul. I got off at the MSP airport instead of proceeding to the next stop (sometimes you can find a cheaper ticket that way). However, you will need to rely on your carry-on bag alone and pray that your flight won't be cancelled and rebooked stopping somewhere else. At the airport, I really didn't know where to go, so I wandered. It just so happened that I wandered in the right direction and arrived at the underground Light Rail Station at the airport. In retrospect, I should have used a map like this one: http://www.mspairport.com/App_Themes/MSP/maps/img/maps/07_ht-L-lrt.jpg .

As you walk into the light rail station, there are electronic ticketing stations--where you can purchase a 6 hour "Event Pass" that is good for both bus and rail. It is actually sold every day, not just during events. Once you enter the light rail station, there are two tracks--one on the left and one on the right. The one on the left will take you where you need to go--towards "Downtown/Minneapolis". If you miss your train, it isn't a big deal, since they come every 15 minutes or so. Times are posted between the tracks.

In order to cross the city to get to the Amtrak, I followed some simple, written directions I had jotted down from Google Maps ( http://goo.gl/maps/uTLN ), which told me that I could take the light rail (line 55) to bus route 16 to the Amtrak station. Light Rail route 55 was fun. It is fast, clean, and smooth. It is not as glamorous as the light rail line in St. Louis, though, in my opinion. Unfortunately, the 55 Rail was shut down just before my stop for construction. They simply de-boarded the train and made everyone go to a (slower) bus that stopped at each of the light rail tracks. Although inconvenient, the only cost was time.

It is easy to find the right stop off of the the light rail...you get off at the Metrodome Station stop--which is actually at a platform just past the Metrodome. It is huge and impossible to miss. There is a short walk ( http://goo.gl/maps/gv3g ) , less than a block, down to a nearby bus stop. I took the stairs, but others took a nice-looking elevator down.

The Metrodome platform is a cross route for many buses. You can search for the correct bus by looking on the electronic signs on the buses until you find one that says 16 & St. Paul on the sign. The Route 16 bus partly goes down university avenue. When getting on the bus, you simply scan your 6-hour pass in the machine. The bus driver helped me. It is a large bus with a joint in the middle to accommodate long turns. You won't want to sit in the back, like I did. Sit as close to the front as you can. It is impossible to see street signs from the back of the bus. Although the bus driver calls out all major stops, it is difficult to hear because there is no amplification. There is a small, inexpensive electronic sign in the front of the bus, but it is not used to announce stops.

I was very fortunate that I didn't miss my stop. An elderly woman who was also going to the Amtrak station just happened to ask for a stop on the University & Cleveland Avenue intersection. By this time I had moved to the front of the bus, so I could see the street sign. Don't expect any help from others riding the bus. While the light rail riders were familiar with the different stations, the bus riders were not terribly familiar with the bus stops. I would recommend getting off at Vandalia St. instead. It is only one and a half blocks prior to the Cleveland stop. Vandalia is a major stop that a number of the other riders used. If you get off at Vandalia, cross University right away to avoid the construction further down and so you can stop at the Subway, or, if you prefer, the McDonald's (a little further back). I got two subs--one for dinner and the veggie one for breakfast on the train. If you ride the 16 bus past your Cleveland stop, you can get off on the Snelling intersection in order to visit Rainbow Foods. One might even walk or take the bus down there while waiting for the train ( http://goo.gl/maps/rL2J ) . That way you can eat on the train w/out paying high prices.

After getting off the bus, it is easy to walk to the Amtrak station. Simply cross University Ave. A little past the Subway there is an SPI Printing and Graphics building on the corner. This is the intersection between Cleveland and University. However, the portion of Cleveland that you want to walk down is not called Cleveland--it becomes Transfer Road. By taking a right past the SPI Printing building you can walk down Transfer Rd. Although it looks kind of industrial there is a sidewalk for the 0.2 miles to the Amtrak.

Waiting for the train was okay. The station was pretty empty, but it filled up fast before the train. If you want to drop your carry-on bags off at the counter so you can roam the city while you wait, they will charge you $3. I just hid mine under some of the cheap-but-comfortable plastic chairs and went for a short jog while waiting. Since the station was empty, I wasn't afraid of theft. I got some work done on my laptop, but there was no internet at the MSP Amtrak station. If you have a longer period of time between getting off at the MSP Airport and the departure time for the Empire Builder, I would recommend hanging out at the MSP airport where there is free Wi-Fi everywhere.

I enjoyed my ride on the Empire Builder. It came on time at 11:15 PM. Although I sat down in an empty two-seat section, another rider had to sit next to me. I noticed some oil workers coming back from their breaks. They get off at Minot, & Williston. We were delayed by about an hour and a half while waiting for a freight train.

In the morning I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep--especially with all the loud calls over the intercom announcing when people could come to sit at their tables. If sleep is a priority for you--get the roomette. I really enjoyed the observation car. I chatted with a friendly man who lived out in the mountains in NY.

The Minot station was utterly destroyed by the flood last summer (I was there and it was unbelievable. Much of the city was destroyed.). They have fixed up only a small area, but are making quick progress on the rest of the station. The station is centrally located, so I walked to the MSU campus, but one could also call a cab--they have a phone book at the window you can borrow.

A few lessons I learned about this kind of trip:

First: 1. Attempt a connection during anticipated "decent" climate conditions. You don't want to fly with heavy winter gear--but you certainly don't want to walk or wait around the Twin Cities or North Dakota without it. The Twin Cities bus stops actually have small glass chambers with heat lamps on them.

Second: I really should have brought a GPS, or at the very least, a map of the Twin Cities. Watching a GPS makes finding your bus/train stop much easier. Although relying on street signs worked for me, it would have been easy to get lost on the Route 16 bus.

Third: Don't worry about the times for train or bus. They run every 15 minutes, so just wait until the next one comes.

Fourth: Make sure you pack the type of carry-ons you don't mind walking with. For me, I packed a bit heavy out of necessity, but I could handle it. I am glad I didn't pack any more.

Fifth: This is a great way to save money:


Air Ticket: Delta, STL to MSP to MIL: $90.60 from a discount carrier website. MSP is a hub for Delta, so many of their flights stop or take off there.
Six Hour Pass for the Twin Cities transit system: $3.50
Train Ticket: booked a few days in advance, Empire Builder from MSP to Minot, ND $63
Subway: $10 for two footers, plus tax

Total: Just under $168, compared to $518 to fly between St. Louis and Minot.