Posts Tagged ‘Minneapolis-Duluth Corridor’

Minnesota Proponents Seeking State Funding

February 14, 2020

Supporters of a proposed Amtrak service between the Twin Cities and Duluth, Minnesota, are seeking $40 million from the state legislature.

The funding would be used to fund improvements needed to launch the Northern Lights Express.

Much of that money would be used to pay for an additional track between Duluth and St. Paul, and to repair a bridge between Duluth and Superior, Wisconsin.

“We’re now in the year 2020, the support is there because the people of the country want to connect, and also because Amtrak is the way to go,” said Representative Mary Murphy, who is leading the project in the legislature.

Proponents of the Northern Lights Express said they do not plan to seek this year any funding for the project from the Wisconsin legislature.

The Minnesota legislature began its 2020 session this week.

Northern Lights Express Proponents Have Their Say Before Legislative Committee Meeting in Duluth

December 16, 2019

Supporters of the proposed Northern Light Express got their chance to have their say before members of the Minnesota House Finance and Policy Committee last week.

The committee held a public hearing at the University of Minnesota-Duluth to discuss how funding can be secured for the proposed rail service between Duluth and the Twin Cities.

Speaking on behalf of the service was state representative Mary Murphy who said she isn’t looking for a time machine but “We have to learn how to travel into the future.”

Murphy is sponsoring a $4 million bonding bill that would pay for the engineering phase of the $550 million project.

Informally known as NLX, the plan is to operate four roundtrips a day over BNSF tracks between Minneapolis and Duluth with intermediate stops in Minnesota in Coon Rapids, Cambridge, and Hinckley. The trains would also stop in Superior, Wisconsin.

The service is envisioned as having a top speed of 90 miles per hour and an average speed of 60 miles per hour.

“It will change everything,” said Ken Buehler, chairman of the NLX Alliance Technical Advisory Committee about getting the funding approved.

Amtrak estimates the service would need annual funding of $17 million but Bob Manzoline, NLX Alliance executive director, said the funding is more likely to be closer to $7 million.

How the project will be funded has yet to be worked out, which means that the service is likely years away from being implemented even in a best case scenario.

Minnesota Fails to OK Funds for Duluth Service

June 4, 2019

The failure of the Minnesota legislature to approve a bill funding development of intercity rail passenger service between the Twin Cities and the Twin Ports means that it will be another year before the project can advance.

The service, slated to be known as the Northern Lights Express, would link Minneapolis-St. Paul and Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin.

The cost of getting service started has been put at $550 million. Much of that would pay for adding capacity to host railroad BNSF.

News reports indicate that the funding had been part of an off-year bonding bill that a special session of the legislature did not take up.

Federal funds are expected to pay for most of the project, but a state match is needed in order to seek those funds.

Amtrak’s North Star once ran on the route, but that train was discontinued in spring 1985 when state funding expired and was not renewed.

Amtrak Supportive of Proposed Duluth Train

March 15, 2019

Minnesota officials were upbeat in the wake of a meeting at which an Amtrak executive discussed restoration of intercity rail passenger service between the Twin Cities and Duluth, Minnesota.

Joe McHugh, Amtrak’s vice president, state-supported business development, said the proposed service is “in the sweet spot” of Amtrak’s preference for trains that run between 150 and 300 miles and take four hours or less.

The Northern Lights Express would cover the 152-miles between the cities in 2.5 hours.

McHugh met with Minnesota officials in Duluth and St. Paul as passenger rail advocates stepped up their efforts to lobby for support for the service.

However, no operating agreements were reached in those meetings although McHugh said Amtrak will help local officials in their efforts to land grant money to pay for improvements needed to develop the route.

Studies have put the cost of those improvements at $550 million.

“Every time we have put this project in the news it has gained more and more support,” said Jim Paine, the mayor of Superior, Wisconsin.

The Northern Light Express would have intermediate stops at Superior and the Minnesota cities of Coon Rapids-Foley, Cambridge and Hinckley.

It would use BNSF tracks and follow a route used by Amtrak’s North Star, which made its last trips on April 7, 1985, after Minnesota ceased funding the train.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is seeking $15 million to fund the Northern Lights Express and McHugh has described it as “one of the most shovel-ready projects in the nation.”

Duluth Service Moves to Design Stage

March 28, 2018

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.

Public Comment Sought on MSP-Duluth Plan

May 3, 2017

The Minnesota Department of Transportation continues to work with the Federal Railroad Administration and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to reinstate intercity rail service between Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota.

A public comment period is currently under way following the release of a Tier 2 Project Level Environmental Assessment of the Northern Lights Express Project.

The project would culminate in the implementation of a “higher speed” service between the two cities.

Written comments are due by May 24.

The proposed 152-mile service would have intermediate stops at Coon Rapids-Foley, Cambridge, Hinckley in Minnesota, and Superior in Wisconsin.

Service is projected to begin by 2020 if funding can be obtained and capital work completed. The cost of launching the service has been estimated at between $500 million and $600 million.

Further information is available at http://www.dot.state.mn.us/nlx/

Amtrak previously provided service over this route between April 16, 1975, and April 7, 1985. At one time the service operated between Chicago and Duluth as the North Star.

Study Reduces Cost Estimates, Speeds for Proposed Minneapolis-Duluth Passenger Trains

December 22, 2015

A study of a proposed passenger rail route between Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota, has reduced the cost of the project, but also the speed at which trains would operate.

The departments of transportation of Minnesota and Wisconsin, which collaborated on the study, estimate that the project will cost between $500 million and $600 million, which is nearly half of earlier projections. This includes costs of stations, equipment, and track improvements.

Trains would operate at 90 mph rather than the 110 mph that was earlier planned.

Known as the Northern Lights Express, trains would use existing BNSF tracks and offer four round trips per day Service is projected to begin in 2020 with a travel time of about 2.5 hours.

The study estimated patronage for the first year to be 700,000 to 750,000 trips, which is expected to increase to 1 million trips by 2040.

Fare revenue would cover most of the operating costs, estimated to average $17.5 million per year.

Amtrak’s Minnesota-funded North Star was the last passenger train in the corridor, ending on Easter Sunday 1985 after the state ended its funding.

During the 1960s, the former Great Northern Railway operated the twice-daily Badger and Gopher in the corridor.

A source of funding for construction of the corridor has yet to be identified.

In the meantime, the next step will involved updating the preliminary project and operation cost estimates, and preparation of a final benefit-cost analysis after cost-sharing discussions with BNSF are completed.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is conducting preliminary engineering, a Tier II environmental assessment, and financial and implementation plans. MinnDOT officials said the project could be ready to begin 2017, officials said.

As for funding, MinnDOT is eyeing the possibility of a federal TIGER grant or other federal funding.

Officials said that in seeking federal funds, a project needs to be ready to begin construction.

The project is being overseen in part by the The Minneapolis-Duluth/Superior Passenger Rail Alliance, a joint powers board formed to explore options for renewing passenger service on the 155-mile corridor.

Also participating in the project are local communities along the route and the Minnesota Department of Transportation Passenger Rail & Environmental Services.