Northern Lights Express high speed rail project still chugging along

By KBJR News 1

April 4, 2014 Updated Apr 4, 2014 at 6:16 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com)--- The Northern Lights Express high speed rail project from Duluth to Minneapolis is currently in the preliminary engineering phase.

"Looks at the different operations of the project, different construction, different ways to build this," said Bob Manzoline, NLX Alliance Manager.

Consultants are designing the stations, layover and maintenance facilities. They will also prepare the preliminary designs for roadways and bridges that need to be modified along the train route.
The project is also in the midst of a financial planning and ridership study that started in the Fall of 2013.

"we try to figure out kind of the sweet spot of cost, what would generate the most ridership, most revenue, and what will work best for the people on the corridor and the state," said Manzoline.

Three alternative routes are being considered with stops in Hinckley, Coon Rapids, Cambridge and possibly Superior. A study is being looked at in Hinckley to potentially loop the existing track through downtown to the Grand Casino.

"Will it generate enough riders to pay back or pay for constructing that new piece of rail?" said Manzoline.

$26 million dollars in bonding money was given to the Northern Lights Express in 2009, but that money has dwindled.

"We have a request for bonding dollars this year as well with all of our partners across the state to get additional dollars to continue to advance all these programs and initiatives," said Steve Raukar, with the NLX Passenger Rail Alliance.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation requested $27 million dollars in bonding money this year for various high speed rail projects across the state but only $2.3 million made its way into a House bill for the Northern Lights Express. The price tag is estimated at about one billion dollars.

"When you quantify that with the economic benefits and gains on the other side of the equation we're hopeful that the numbers will illustrate that's a good investment of public money," said Raukar.

If all goes as planned, groundbreaking could happen as soon as 2016

Results of a ridership survey that was sent out earlier this year will be released in June.

Written and posted to the web by Raeanna Marnati