Duluth Service Moves to Design Stage

Proponents of restoring intercity rail passenger service between Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota, have moved into the design phase of the project and also are seeking money to fund it.

“The planning is done. There is no more planning that needs to be done. Now we are ready to build,” said Frank Loetterle, project manager in the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Rail Office.

Loetterle said MnDOT is in “extensive discussions” with Amtrak and BNSF, which owns the tracks to be used by the proposed Northern Lights Express.

Once capital operating funding is secured, the service could be in operation in about two and a half years after the final design process begins.

The project is expected to require between $500 million and $600 million.

Derrick James, governmental affairs senior officer at Amtrak, described services such as Northern Lights as “the future for passenger rail.”

James said a Midwest regional rail system of higher-frequency passenger trains would “stitch together the economy of the Midwest” while providing the connectedness that young people and the business community seek.

“If we want to keep the Twin Ports on the map, because we know we’ve got the quality of life here, to keep the young people, we also have to be competitive in connecting our universities, connecting our business community. A highly developed rail station with supportive zoning can be a catalyst for more economic development in the area around the station,” James said. “It’s not about the train, it’s about our economy and we’re building an economy that’s open to everyone and is accessible for everyone.”

Last month the Federal Railroad Administration approved the Northern Lights development plan. Work has also been done on an environmental assessment.

The proposal calls for four daily trips with intermediate stops in Coon Rapids, Cambridge, Hinckley in Minnesota and Superior in Wisconsin.

Plans envision a top speed of 90 miles per hour, but an average speed of more than 60 miles per hour.

The route previously had Amtrak service that ended in April 1985 when state funding of the route lapsed. The North Star had once operated between Chicago and Duluth.

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