Train from Minneapolis to Duluth: MnDOT optimistic about securing route funding

After years of discussion, a long-awaited passenger train route running from the Twin Cities to Duluth could finally get state funding from the Minnesota legislature.

Funding for the proposed Northern Lights Express route is under consideration in committee. The train route has been discussed for years, but Republican opposition kept funding from going through. Now, with the DFL in control of both houses, MnDOT officials feel optimistic the project can move forward. 

The Northern Lights Express project was estimated at a total cost of $425 million with most of it coming from the federal government. Minnesota lawmakers are looking at sending $99 million to move the project forward.

If approved, Amtrak plans to convert the existing railway track from Target Field Station in Minneapolis to the St. Louis County Depot in Duluth.

Currently, Amtrak's Empire Builder line runs from Chicago to Milwaukee, west north of Madison to La Crosse before heading north along the river to the Twin Cities and then northwest to Fargo and Grand Forks.

Tuesday morning, FOX 9 spoke with Frank Loetterle from MnDOT, the project manager for the Northern Lights Express. When completed, he says the train trip would take about 2.5 hours and MnDOT hopes the route would see an estimated 1 million riders within 10 to 15 years after inception. Loetterle says the train's top speed would be 90 miles per hour with an average speed of 60 miles per hour, including stops on the way in Cambridge, Hinckley, and Superior.

Loetterle adds that, if the funding is green-lit, he hopes to have the train running in three years. The plan has been under consideration since 2009.