Posts Tagged ‘Northern Lights Express Project’

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.

Minnesota Interests Seek Federal Funding for New Route

November 17, 2019

Minnesota rail passenger advocates recently made a trip to Washington in search of federal funding for a proposed intercity rail passenger route between the Twin Cities and Duluth, Minnesota.

Proponents of the Northern Lights Express made the rounds of Minnesota congressmen and senators.

The delegation also included public officials from Minnesota.

Backers of the service, which would operate at a top speed of 90 mph, are hoping that with federal funding will come state funding from Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Northern Lights Express would restore service to a former Amtrak route known as the North Star and which ended in April 1985 after Minnesota ended funding for the train.

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.

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.

Proposed Minnesota Rail Route Clears Hurdle

March 9, 2018

The Federal Railroad Administration has found that a proposed passenger rail service between Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota, would have no significant impact on the environment.

That finding will enable the Minnesota Department of Transportation to seek federal and state funding for the 152-mile Northern Lights Express.

The proposed service, which would use BNSF tracks, is expected to cost between $500 to $600 million and make intermediate stops in Coon Rapids, Cambridge, and Hinckley, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin.

Studies have projected the trains would generate 700,000 to 750,000 rides in the first year of operation.

“It’s a significant hurdle because we can now work on getting an agreement with Amtrak, BNSF, and funding for final design and construction,” said Frank Loetterle, MnDOT’s transportation department’s project manager,

Amtrak operated a state-funded train known as the North Star on this same route until 1985.

During the 1970s, the North Star originated in Chicago for a time.

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.