Northern Lights Express
The Northern Lights Express (NLX) high speed intercity passenger rail proposal is an exciting shovel-ready infrastructure project that would serve six counties in the 8th Congressional district. Four times daily service from the Depot in Duluth to Target Field station in Minneapolis would have one stop in Superior, Wisconsin and Minnesota stops in Hinckley, Cambridge and Coon Rapids. The NLX will use 152 miles of existing freight rail track where the train will be able to top 90 miles per hour after track improvements are completed. With stops, the entire Duluth to Minneapolis run will be completed in less than 2.5 hours, competitive for time when compared to car travel.
The NLX is projected to have yearly ridership when it opens of 750,000 passengers, growing to over 1 million by 2040. These passengers will include tourists traveling between Minneapolis and Duluth to daily commuters traveling from Hinckley and Cambridge to Minneapolis. The economic impact of the project would see an increase of about 19,000 jobs along the NLX corridor resulting in over $620 million of additional income by 2040. By 2040, the line is projected to decrease vehicle miles driven by 47 million resulting in a savings of 211 million gallons of gas and $580.25 million!
NLX is a shovel-ready project and 3,100 jobs will be created during construction of the line. When NLX is fully operational it will employ over 400 people for operation and maintenance. Currently, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is exploring having a layover facility in Sandstone and a maintenance hub in Duluth.
With the Tier 2 Environmental Review and Engineering completed for this project, the lack of federal funding is the biggest obstacle to NLX becoming reality. Federal funding could cover 80% of the $550 million project, with the other 20% being covered by the state. The city of Duluth has already approved funding for the project as well. The current federal transportation bill fails to include funding for the build out of NLX, posing the largest obstacle to its completion. Despite Republican infrastructure funding promises, progress may well depend on a new, Democratically-controlled Congress.
In 2015, President Obama authorized the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act to provide funding for rail lines in addition to roads and bridges. This Act provides the legal authority under which NLX can be funded; however, further steps need to be taken to procure the funding. In addition to a special appropriation from Congress, Leah will work to ensure Minnesota state and local municipalities have access to a mix of federal grant programs including the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, Capital Investment Grant (CIG) program, the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement grant program, and the Restoration and Enhancements program.
The NLX project enjoys support from a wide array of unions, student groups, mayors of cities along the NLX corridor and commuters across the state. Leah looks forward to working with all these supporters, as well as MnDOT and the NLX Alliance, to ensure this project moves forward quickly. Minnesota residents deserve access to multi-modal transportation options that improve safety, affordability and economic opportunities across the state.