NLX supporters think railway project can become reality this year

Published: Jan. 11, 2023 at 6:07 PM CST
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DULUTH, MN -- A bill that would fund the Northern Lights Express, a proposed passenger railway between Duluth and the Twin Cities, is once again on its way through the Minnesota legislature.

The project has been the subject of controversy for years now, with opponents calling it a waste of resources, and proponents touting it as a more equitable form of transportation.

“This is equity in transportation. Not everybody can drive. Not everyone wants to take the bus not everyone can afford to fly. The train is an alternative,” said Ken Buehler, who has been involved with the project for years.

The project has come closer to getting the needed funding in recent years but has fallen just short.

Last year, the bill moved through the DFL-controlled house but was blocked by the Republican-led senate.

Buehler believes this year could be different.

“The stars are aligned here. Federal money, state surplus, a trifecta of control from the Democrats who love mass transit. We have a window,” he said.

With the pieces in place for funding, the last thing the project needs is the votes, and it appears DFL reps are committed to making it happen.

“I’m excited for the jobs that it’ll create. I’m excited about the connections it will provide. I’m excited to use it myself with my family,” said Senator Grant Hauschild (DFL, MN-03).

Hauschild, who represents Hermantown and much of the Iron Range, has signed onto the bill as a co-author.

“The bill would be about just under $100 million, for the NLX train. That would be matched by almost $400 million in federal infrastructure funding,” he said.

The state only needs to fund 20% of the project in order to use federal infrastructure money.

There are two ways the state could secure that funding: as an appropriation or as a bonding project.

“Bonding projects take a supermajority vote in the legislature, whereas appropriations take a simple majority. We do know that this project has stalled in years past under former majorities,” said Hauschild.

Without bipartisan support, it’s unlikely the bill could get enough GOP support to pass with a supermajority.

Still, project leaders like Buehler say if they play their cards right, this could be the year the project finally takes off.

“We’ve been at this for 22 years. We’ve had enthusiasm, never this good in the past,” he said.