Karlis Barobs describes himself as a “trainiac,” and that was even before a Monday afternoon that included a chance to pilot a light rail train around the empty METRO Blue Line rail yard in Minneapolis.
Barobs, 8, of Hopkins, was invited to get a complete tour of the Blue Line operations and maintenance facility — and go for a hands-on train ride — after he contacted the Metropolitan Council and offered to donate $75 toward the Southwest Light Rail Extension Project. The $75 would have come from cash that Barobs’ classmates raised when they learned he has cancer. He was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma last year.
The Metropolitan Council declined what it called “a very sweet gesture,” but made sure that Karlis’ love of trains would be recognized. Adam Duininck, the chair of the Metropolitan Council, got in touch with Karlis’ family and offered up the tour and train ride.
On Monday, Karlis received keys to the train, an operator’s license, two plaques and a bag full of LRT-related goodies
Currently, the Green Line Extension — or Southwest Light Rail Project — is scheduled to start service through Hopkins in 2020. When Karlis heard some of the funding for the project still needed to be firmed up, he decided to offer the cash gift.
His generosity could come full circle in 2020, when the line is scheduled to begin service. At Monday’s event, Hopkins Mayor Molly Cummings told Karlis she wants him at the ribbon cutting for one of the LRT stations that will serve Hopkins.
After a tour of the operations and maintenance facility Monday, Karlis was at the train’s controls in the rail yard
When the train went out on the Blue Line track for a run to the Ft. Snelling station, rail instructor Dan Syverson took over. But Karlis was right beside him, sounding the horn when appropriate, and making announcements at each station that “this train is not in service.” The sound of a child’s voice coming over the loudspeakers caught the attention of several people on the station platforms as they waited for the next train.
Karlis told a reporter that driving the train “was easier than I thought,” when his day was done.
The SWLRT project will operate from downtown Minneapolis and through St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka, and Eden Prairie. The total estimated cost of $1.79 billion will be funded by a mix of federal, state and local sources. In downtown Minneapolis, the Green Line Extension will offer connections to the Blue Line LRT, future Blue Line Extension also known as Bottineau LRT, numerous bus lines, and the Northstar Commuter Rail line. Passengers who remain on the Green Line will get one-seat service to the state Capitol and downtown St. Paul.