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Northern Lights Express Alliance celebrates Minneapolis-Duluth train funding signed by Gov. Walz

Passengers will be able to buy a $35 train ticket to Duluth in 3 to 5 years after $194 million in state money unlocks 80% of the cost to be paid in federal money.

PINE CITY, Minn. — There was reason to toast at Wednesday's meeting in Pine City of the Northern Lights Express Alliance. 

The group for years has been planning and advocating for a passenger rail route from Minneapolis to Duluth with stops in Coon Rapids, Cambridge and Hinkley.

The route hasn't existed since 1985.

NLX Alliance Chair Andrew Johnson, Minneapolis' Ward 12 council member, has long touted the jobs that will be created in the construction of the new train stations, as well as improvements to existing rain lines.

He says it is as shovel-ready as a rail project like this can be.

"It felt like a long shot five years ago," Johnson said. "It will be about three to five years total until folks are able to ride on the train. It really only takes three years to build it, but there are some additional administrative stuff that gets taken care of."

The Minnesota Legislature approved $194.7 million — which is 20 percent of total costs — but will unlock the other 80% in federal funding.

Criticism by opponents includes a belief that money could be better spent on other forms of transit that would be used more and a belief that ridership won't be able to sustain costs long-term.

Ken Buehler, the executive director of the Lake Superior Railroad Museum and a strong advocate for the route, firmly believes there's more than enough public interest.

"We've got Duluth, the tourist destination of Minnesota, and where does 74% of our guest visitors come from? The seven-county metro area," Buehler said.

New train cars will be purchased but they'll use the existing BNSF railroad. Four daily round trips are expected with tickets for a one-way trip costing about $35.

Construction on this project, which includes building the new train stations and improving the existing rail, is expected to begin in about a year.


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