Minneapolis to Duluth train awaits decision on federal funds

Any day now, Minnesota state officials could learn whether the Northern Lights Express will secure key federal funding.

When Minnesota approved $195 million in state dollars, that unlocked the ability to apply for federal grants. As the Minnesota Department of Transportation awaits the feds' decision, it has started negotiating with BNSF Railway, which owns the line where the train would operate.

"We're pushing for the Northern Lights Express because it would connect two of the largest Minnesota cities," said Brian Nelson, the president of All Aboard Minnesota.

The non-profit All Aboard Minnesota pushes for the expansion of rail transportation, so Nelson is saying ‘full steam ahead’ to the proposed passenger train from Target Field to Duluth.

"We feel that it's important to provide other transportation alternatives to driving and flying because there's a lot of people – college students, families, elderly, people with disabilities – that can't or don't want to drive or fly," Nelson said.

MnDOT has said a one-way ticket from Minneapolis to Duluth is expected to cost between $30 and $35.

Earlier this week, elected officials and MnDOT provided an update on the project, explaining that they're waiting on two federal grants, which would pay for 80 percent of the cost. If the funding is turned down, MnDOT officials said they would reapply in the future.

Even if the project secures federal funding, the train is likely still several years away from becoming a reality, but supporters said the project is unique in that it already has state support.

"There still remain a lot of questions about the project as we're waiting for word from the feds. And we've done our part as best we can here in the state of Minnesota and locally. We'll keep doing that," said Sen. Jen McEwen, DFL-Duluth.

The train would make four round trips a day on existing BNSF tracks with stops in Coon Rapids, Cambridge, Hinckley and Superior.

But not everyone is on board this train.

"It's not a project, I think, that really should be a top priority," Matt Look, the chair of the Anoka County Board of Commissioners, told FOX 9. "In 2012, Anoka County took a position where they're opposing any further work with NLX."

Look questions why resources are being put toward what he calls a "heavily subsidized line."

Ridership is expected to bring in $12 million annually, which would cover 63 percent of the operating costs, according to MnDOT.

"We will not participate in funding. If they want to place a station in Coon Rapids, they can go ahead and do whatever they want to do," Look said.

The Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce told FOX 9 it supports the project.