MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - It's full steam ahead for the Northern Lights Express rail project connecting the Twin Cities to the Twin Ports.
A passenger train running from Minneapolis to Duluth is on track to becoming a reality after state lawmakers approved $195 million in state dollars this week. That unlocked federal grants that are expected to pay for the remaining 80 percent of the Northern Lights Express project.
"We're going to get this thing built, and it's going to benefit generations of Minnesotans," said Andrew Johnson, chair of the Northern Lights Express Alliance and a Minneapolis City Council member.
A one-way ticket from Minneapolis to Duluth would cost between $30 and $35, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The department said at speeds up to 90 miles per hour, the train ride to Duluth would take about two and a half hours, which is comparable to driving, if not faster during rush hour and bad weather.
The train, which will be run by Amtrak, will make four round trips each day on existing tracks owned by BNSF Railway. It will run between the Target Field Station in Minneapolis and Union Depot in Duluth, with stops in Coon Rapids, Cambridge, Hinckley and Superior.
"We're talking about two of the biggest economic hubs in the state and two parts of the state that people love," said Grace Waltz, the vice president of public policy for the Minneapolis Regional Chamber.
Between 700,00 and 750,000 people are projected to ride the train in the first year. In 20 years, it is estimated that ridership will increase to about 1 million per year, according to MnDOT. Supporters believe the train will not only help increase tourism on the North Shore but also bring people back to downtown Minneapolis.
"Whether it's students or families or folks in the business community traveling to the Twin Cities, whether that be for work or for sports games, or just fun downtown, I think we're going see a lot of traffic between the two cities," Waltz said.
The estimated cost for construction is about $592 million. In the final days of the legislative session, Republican lawmakers criticized the train's price tag, but MnDOT and the Minneapolis Regional Chamber said the train will have the following economic benefits:
- 3,000 construction jobs and 500 other jobs each year for the first five years
- An estimated $150 million increase to property values along the line
- An estimated $15 million in state and local sales tax revenue in the first year
- $400 million in tourism revenue
"We put all sorts of money into road projects all over the state, recognizing they serve value in connecting communities and they create economic opportunity. And that's the same case here," Johnson said.
He said the train will be ready to ride in four or five years.