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Northern Lights Express project cleared to seek funding

Duluth News Tribune

Having cleared a pair of environmental hurdles recently, the proposed half-billion-dollar passenger train between the Twin Ports and Twin Cities is proceeding to its next phase — namely seeking funding for final design and construction, said a Minnesota Department of Transportation news release on Wednesday.

The Northern Lights Express Higher Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Project was found to have no significant environmental barriers and will not require an Environmental Impact Statement, MnDOT said.

Processes and public comment periods by both the Federal Railroad Administration and MnDOT came to similar conclusions in recent months. The Federal Railroad Administration’s “Finding of No Significant Impact on the Tier 2 Project Level Environmental Assessment” was the most recent conclusion on the 152-mile project corridor. That finding in late February clears the way for the project to move forward, MnDOT said.

The proposed project includes constructing the necessary infrastructure for, and operation of, a 90 mph rail service between Minneapolis and Duluth — a portion of which would travel through Wisconsin. Much of the rail line is already in place as BNSF rail. The estimated $500 million to $600 million project would build out four or five sidings along the route which would allow freight trains to pull in and out to make room for the passenger train.

Stations are proposed in six communities: Minneapolis, Coon Rapids, Cambridge, Hinckley, and Duluth, Minnesota and Superior. In addition, the proposed NLX project would include one maintenance facility and one layover facility, which may be on separate sites in Sandstone and Duluth, or co-located on one site in Duluth.

MnDOT said it will continue to work with the Federal Railroad Administration to identify funding to support final design and construction of NLX.