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New daily train line between Twin Cities and Duluth is set for construction

Minnesota lawmakers approve passenger train from Twin Cities to Duluth
Minnesota lawmakers approve passenger train from Twin Cities to Duluth 03:48

MINNEAPOLIS -- A passenger train from the Twin Cities to Duluth and back is now set to become a reality. In this session's transportation bill, Minnesota lawmakers approved nearly $200 million for the project, unlocking federal funds that will cover the remainder of the project.

The captivating beauty of Minnesota's North Shore is set to become even more accessible with the Northern Lights Express. The line goes from the Twin Cities to the Twin Ports, with stops in Minneapolis, Coon Rapids, Cambridge, Hinckley, and Superior, Wisconsin.


"It'll be about the same amount of time as driving up to Duluth, however you're not going to have to worry about traffic or construction and you're certainly not going to have to sit there focusing on 35W," Minneapolis City Councilmember, and Northern Lights Express Alliance Chair, Andrew Johnson said. "It'll have new train cars. We expect a cafe car as well, and you'll be able to look at that beautiful Minnesota countryside."

The train will go 90 mph and make four round trips per day. A one-way trip from Minneapolis to Duluth would cost from $30 to $35 and take about two and a half hours.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is expecting at least 700,000 to ride it in the first year, and they expect ridership to eventually grow to a million passengers per year.

"Think about veterans who will be able to get reliably get down to the VA through this method. Think about the students at UMD or down here in the Twin Cities, to be able to get back and forth to their families," Johnson said.

So who will pay for it? And when will it be ready? MnDOT says construction is estimated to cost $592.3 million. Federal funds will cover 80% of the cost with the state picking up the other 20%.

The group behind the project says the $12 million from rider fares will cover about 63% of the operating costs. The state of Minnesota will fund the rest of the operating costs.

The line will use some existing BNSF Railway tracks that aren't in use, speeding up the timeline and lowering startup costs. It's estimated the line will be ready for service in about four or five years.

The Northern Lights Express Alliance says rail is second only to ferry boats for the lowest carbon footprint per passenger mile.

Some criticisms during this process that have been voiced include worried about costs, the potential for delays, and worries the state will be on the hook to subsidize operating costs if ridership isn't strong.

MnDOT, meanwhile, is touting further benefits, like an economic return of $1.10 to $1.69 for every dollar invested, 3,000 construction jobs and 500 other jobs each year for the first five years, and $400 million in tourism revenue. This will support about 250 jobs per year and wages of $250 million over 40 years. 

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