Northern Lights Express Chugs Along in State Rail Plan

Briggs LeSavage

November 17, 2014 10:14 PM

The Minnesota Department of Transportation heard from Northlanders as part of their plan to get input from Minnesota residents across the state on the 2015 update of the State Rail Plan. 

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The Minnesota State Rail Plan covers the state's freight and passenger rail system by providing guidance and priorities for state transportation decisions to ensure that efficient and competitive services are available to rail customers and to enhance freight access to local and global markets. 

One of those projects is the billion dollar Northern Lights Express, a high-speed passenger train that would connect Duluth with the Twin Cities while making some stops in between. 

Ken Buehler, a member of the Northern Lights Express Joint Alliance, said there are four passenger trains MnDOT is including in this plan, adding that the Northern Lights Express is one getting high priority as they vy for federal backing. 

"Well, it's all about funding and the higher you are ranked, the more chances you have of being at the top when the funding is passed out," Buehler said. 

Dave Christianson, the State Rail Plan project manager, said MnDOT is finishing up some things, including ridership surveys and a service plan, before things can go that far. He said they hope to have those things finished up by the end of the winter and after that, they hope to be able to qualify it as a federal project so it can get federal funding. 

Other projects incorporated in this update include a review for compliance with the 2013 Federal Rail Administration guidance and following the trends in freight lines across the country as well as dealing with rail safety concerns.

MnDOT will continue to develop this plan between December and January. A final draft will be available for public review when they hold their second round of open houses in January. Then they hope to have the plan adopted by February 2015. 


Briggs LeSavage

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