Lawmakers, community leaders raise questions about NLX project
DULUTH, MN. (Northern News Now) - The Northern Lights Express is on track with funding from the Minnesota legislature, but hurdles remain for the passenger train.
Legislative Transportation Committee Chairs, local lawmakers and officials held a transportation roundtable Monday at the Duluth Depot to overview the progress on the train decades in the making.
“If you’re passionate about something, and you believe in something, things like this can happen,” Ken Buehler, NLX Technical Advisory Committee Chair and Executive Director of the Lake Superior Railroad Museum, said.
The Minnesota legislature invested $194 million in the NLX in May but questions about how to finalize the 2.5-hour train ride remain.
“What is it going to be like when passengers arrive here in Duluth from the Twin Cities and various places? What is it going to be like when they get off the train?” DFL Duluth Senator Jen McEwen said.
The passenger train will make six stops around the route, and MnDOT expects around 750,000 people to ride the train in the first year.
“MnDOT is going to have to gear up,” St. Louis County City Commissioner Keith Nelson said. “This is going to be a tremendous effort on their behalf to build on the passenger rail division that can handle a project of this enormity.”
Buehler said the Depot in Duluth needs upgrades for all those potential riders.
“We are going to need more parking. We are going to need bus connections. We are going to need more places for pickup and drop-off. This is all going to change,” Buehler said.
The project also relies on nearly $350 million from the federal government, and it’s not officially secured.
“We are considered a top priority federally in terms of rail projects,” NLX Chair and Minneapolis City Councilor Andrew Johnson said. “That’s what we’ve heard back from the FRA, the Federal Rail Administration.”
Johnson said they will hear back from the federal government again toward the end of the year.
Groundbreaking is expected to happen in a couple of years followed by a few years of construction.
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