Earlier this year, great news arrived for proponents of the Northern Lights Express (NLX) passenger rail project when the Minnesota Department of Transportation announced that the federal funding needed to complete the project had become available.

That occurred when state lawmakers approved nearly $195 million in state dollars for the project, which then unlocked the federal grants needed to pay for the remaining 80 percent. On December 8, December, The Minnesota Department of Transportation announced the project had taken another big step forward.

MnDOT says they have received $500,000 in federal funds to advance the planning of the Northern Lights Express passenger rail project. This federal grant money provides funds to begin preliminary work on the project.

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They note that earlier this year, they applied for the Corridor Identification and Development Program grant through the Federal Railroad Administration. MnDOT will use the CIDP funds to begin updating planning work originally completed in 2017. The funds are a portion of the 80% funding needed from the federal government for the project, which is estimated to cost $592.3 million.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation added that it has also applied for a Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Program grant to fund final design and construction. A decision on that application is expected before the end of 2023.

“We are eager to move this project forward to final design, but we still have some important steps ahead,“ said Greg Mathis, MnDOT planning director for passenger rail. “We will have a clearer timeline once we learn about the additional funding from the Federal Railroad Administration. Until then, we will continue to work with BNSF Railway, the NLX Alliance, and local communities to get trains up and running.”

The Northern Lights Express, which would be run by Amtrak, would make four round trips each day between Minneapolis and Duluth. It will also stop in Coon Rapids, Cambridge, Hinckley, and Superior, Wisconsin. When service begins, a one-way ticket between Minneapolis and Duluth will cost about $30 - $35.


The train will operate at speeds up to 90 miles per hour. A one-way trip between the Twin Cities and Twin Ports is expected to take about 2½ hours. This is comparable to how long driving a vehicle would take, only without the worries of rush hour traffic or bad weather.

Related: New 2024 Passenger Train To Connect Minnesota + Wisconsin Cities To Chicago

MnDOT expects 700,00 to 750,000 people to ride the train in the first year. In 20 years, it is estimated that ridership will be about 1 million per year.

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