Community optimistic Northstar rail could finally come to St. Cloud

It derailed nearly a decade ago, but now there’s a renewed push to drive the Northstar Commuter Rail all the way to St. Cloud.

There’s enough momentum to finish the long-languishing line, and state lawmakers included it on their statewide tour of potential bonding projects.

"I have been at the chamber for 20 years, and I think I’ve worked on it ever since I started here," said St. Cloud Chamber President Teresa Bohnen.

Bohnen now feels optimistic that the Northstar line that runs from Target Field to Big Lake could finally be extended to St. Cloud. It was the intention when it started running on existing rail lines 10 years ago, but it was put on hold a year later.

"I think one of the most important things we’re telling them is to finish what they’ve started," says Bohnen. "This is a project that’s been ongoing for a long time."

The major hold up is, of course, money. It's expensive to run the extra stretch of line. Right now, commuters are forced to use a link bus to get from St. Cloud to the rail line. But, the new optimism is fueled in part because the Amtrak Depot in St. Cloud is among projects being considered for the bonding bill by a busload of state legislators on a three-day tour of sites.

"It’s important that the bonding committee realizes that this project to bring the Northstar Commuter Rail to St. Cloud is going to be a huge boost to the economy of central Minnesota," explains Rep. Dan Wolgamott.

Rep. Wolgamott is chief author of the bill asking for $6.5 million to start the prep work which includes negotiating with the BNSF to share the tracks.

"It was the most aggressive step that we could take for a project that’s been really dead for the last 10 years," says Rep. Wolgamott.

The total cost is unknown, but projected into the tens of millions of dollars which is why it derailed.

"There is an economic impact, we know that," says Bohnen. "When you’re the end of the line, things develop here, which is one thing we’re concerned about Big Lake because they’ve been the end of the line and things developed there. We want it up here and to be here and continue up here so we can have those benefits as well."