Senate Republicans vote to scuttle proposed rail link between Twin Cities, Twin Ports and Twin Cities

DULUTH, Minn. — Proponents of passenger rail transportation between the Twin Ports and the Twin Cities expressed dismay this week following a Republican vote banning public funding for the project.

The 34 Senate Republicans voted Monday to pass an amendment to the agency’s transportation bill that prevents the Minnesota Department of Transportation from spending on the planned $450 million Northern Lights Express. The measure passed 34-31 in the GOP-controlled chamber.

“I am extremely disappointed in my fellow Republicans, especially those whose communities could benefit, for their lack of support for Northern Lights Express passenger rail,” Senator Jen McEwen, DFL-Duluth, said in a statement Monday. evening.

“This is a bipartisan effort in the north,” she added. “People want choices. They don’t want to be forced to use their car with no other options.

Republican disdain for the project was expected in February, when Sen. Jason Rarick, R-Pine City, dismissed the project in an interview with the Forum News Service.

“I don’t see why people would use it,” Rarick said then. “It’s going to take longer than a bus or any other means of transport, and I don’t see if the cost will be worth the use.”

Northern Lights Express, nicknamed “NLX” by its supporters, has been planned for a long time and its supporters call it the most ready-made passenger rail project in the country.

“We’re disappointed, of course,” said Bob Manzoline, executive director of the St. Louis and Lake Counties Regional Railroad Authority and a member of the alliance of cities along the route pushing to build Northern Lights Express.

“The opponents have made their statement,” he added. “I’m not sure why they don’t think rail is the right thing for Minnesota.”

President Joe Biden‘s $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed in 2021 was supposed to allow the project to access federal funding, but not before the state released those funds with its own financial commitment.

The Democratic-led Minnesota House of Representatives passed $85 million in public funding. Representatives Liz Olson, DFL-Duluth, and Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, drafted the House bill supporting the project. Governor Tim Walz also supports NLX in his budget proposal.

The project would update 152 miles of existing BNSF track so it could be used to haul the passenger train which is expected to reach speeds of up to 90mph.

Planned stops would be between Target Field Station in Minneapolis and the St. Louis County Depot in Duluth, with additional stations in Superior, Hinckley, Cambridge and Coon Rapids.

Rail sidings would be built along the route to allow freight traffic to pass when the passenger train stopped alongside.

National passenger rail service provider Amtrak has already signed on to operate the service, while BNSF has not signed on and will not, organizers said, until the project is fully funded.

McEwen noted the example of how passenger rail would allow northern military service veterans access to the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, while giving everyone more choice.

“All potential benefits were compromised this afternoon by Republican votes to cut funding for this critical project,” McEwen said. “Their votes do not match the broad support we are seeing for this project in our communities.”

McEwen’s press release condemning his colleagues highlighted Republicans along the road who voted against support, including Rarick and Sens. Mark Koran of North Branch, Michelle Benson of Ham Lake and Roger Chamberlain of Lino Lakes.

McEwen also noted the support for the project from many unions, business groups, non-profit organizations and colleges in Minnesota, including the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, Lake Superior College and the ‘University of Minnesota Duluth and the University of Wisconsin-Higher.

Manzoline said he hopes the governor and House can persuade senators to vote for support in a final transportation bill before the end of the session later this spring.

“We did our homework and gave all the information we could about the project,” he said. “It’s not dead, not before the end of the session.”

About Therese Williams

Check Also

Republicans clash with FTC chief Lina Khan over morale, partisanship and ‘zombie votes’ at agency

Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina M. Khan has faced intense questions from Republicans on a …