MN Senate approves funding for Northern Lights Express

The NLX is a multicity passenger rail system between the Twin Cities Metro and Duluth.
Published: Apr. 27, 2023 at 5:18 PM CDT
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ST. PAUL, MN. (Northern News Now) - A project that has been in the works for almost two decades became a reality Thursday.

The Minnesota State Senate passed the omnibus Transportation Bill Thursday afternoon with a bipartisan vote of 36-31.

At least $50 million will go toward the Northern Lights Express (NLX) to get the passenger rail system on the tracks.

The NLX is a multicity passenger rail system between the Twin Cities Metro and Duluth.

Thursday’s vote is the biggest victory yet for the project.

Proponents of the NLX say it will offer an alternative transportation mode for people along the I-35 corridor.

The railway would use existing rail lines between the Twin Cities and Duluth.

Hypothetically, it would cost around half a billion dollars to build.

The federal government will cover the rest if the state can fund 20% of the project’s cost.

The Senate’s version of the bill contains $50 million for the project, which is not enough for the 20% match.

However, the project received a massive $194 million investment in the House.

Senator Jen McEwen from Duluth is hopeful when the bill goes to a conference committee to decide the exact amount, they can adopt the full funding the House has agreed on.

“Going into that conference, the discussion is going to be what that final number is, or we’re in an excellent starting place for that,” McEwen said. “The $194 million will open up a huge amount of federal funding.”

If the House version of the bill is adopted, the project would be eligible for almost a billion dollars in funding between state and federal governments.

One common criticism of the project is that it would take the same amount of time to just drive between the two ends of the rail.

Senator Jason Rarick is a Republican who represents large parts of Pine County, where the rail would pass directly through.

He voted against the bill Thursday.

“Getting dropped off in Duluth isn’t going to help the vast majority of people who are going north for a weekend,” Rarick said. “It just isn’t going to serve near the number of people that I believe the projections say.”

McEwen believes it’s less about practicality and more about having an additional opinion that is more convenient or even more equitable.

This is the first time the NLX has secured funding in both the House and the Senate.

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