This year’s state legislative session yielded no funds for the $550 million high speed passenger rail service Northern Lights Express (NLX).

The Northern Lights Express is a proposed passenger rail train from the Twin Cities to Duluth. Current plans are for a 152 mile line with stops in Minneapolis, Coon Rapids, Cambridge, Hinckley and Duluth/Superior.

The NLX Alliance Board met on May 22 in the Pine County Board Room. John Ongoro of St. Louis County Government Relations told the board the legislative session started with a lot of hope and encouraging words from leadership regarding transparency with the public in hopes there would be no problems toward the end of the session.

“Unfortunately they fell into the same trap again,” Ongoro said.

The proposed bill, which included a $1.5 billion bond, passed through the House committee, but, according to Ongoro, the committee had been “sitting on it,” waiting until closer to the end of the session hoping there would be a bonding bill.

Since bonding years are every other year, and 2019 is not a normal bonding year, they were hoping there would be an emergency bonding bill.

State funding is required to unlock federal funding which would pay for the majority of the project on an 80-20 percentage.

Ken Buehler of the St. Louis & Lake Counties Regional Railroad Authority reported that Derrick James of Amtrack said he was pleased with what was going on in Minnesota.

Alliance board member Andrew Johnson, of the Minneapolis City Council, reported that Minneapolis voted to reauthorize the participation agreement and approved funding for this year.

“We stand ready to help in any way we can to move Hennepin County back in the same direction,” Buehler said.

Buehler also told the board that he and others met with Mary Murphy, Representative for House District 3B, which includes portions of Lake and St. Louis counties.

According to Buehler, Rep. Murphy proposed a $46 million bill for rail projects overall with NLX being specified. He asked the board to put a request together so the RRA could submit next year’s bonding request which must be in by June 14.

According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the next steps for the NLX project include assembling funds for construction, completing final design work, completing negotiations with BNSF and other property owners, and acquiring right-of-way for stations. The first construction projects will likely be grade crossing improvements, many of which may be constructed prior to the completion of trail improvements or the construction of stations.

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