New bill brings Northern Lights Express one step closer to reality

Published: Apr. 28, 2022 at 6:16 PM CDT
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DULUTH, MN -- A newly passed bill in the Minnesota House could finally make the Northern Lights Express happen.

The project, also known as NLX, has been in the works for roughly 20 years.

According to project chair Ken Buehler, the new bill provides the project with extra funding from the state of Minnesota.

“[Tuesday], the house approved the Transportation and Finance bill package that went before the House to fund the $85 million for our local match,” he said.

Buehler says the money helps them get closer to requesting money from the federal government.

“It’s an 80/20 split, which means there’s a $425 million project. $340 million of that is going to come from the infrastructure bill, which is now law, and $85 million has got to be the state local match,” said Buehler.

If the project gets the state funding it needs, the federal government can fund the rest of it.

The project still faces a roadblock, in the form of the republican controlled state senate.

Most Republicans voted against the bill while it was moving through the house, and in order to pass through the republican controlled senate, it would need bipartisan support.

“If the vote were today I would be a no, but I’m more open and looking at the possibilities, I’ve had some folks from some of the cities in my counties talking to me about it,” said Senator Jason Rarick, a Republican representing Pine City.

A large part of the railway lies within Rarick’s constituency.

He hasn’t seen enough support from his constituents for the project, but if that changes, he could change his mind.

“If suddenly I had the feeling that the majority of the people in my district were you know strongly in favor or interested, that could get me to switch,” he said.

If they secure the state funding, NLX would need to compete with other Amtrak projects across the country for funding.

According to Buehler, theirs is the only one on the list that is ready to go.

“There’s gonna be a lot of people that are going to compete for it. But there’s only one that’s ready to go. It took us 20 years and about $14 million to get here. It’s going to take others the same amount of time and the same amount of money,” he said.

If they can get state funding, Buehler believes the project could finally become a reality.

“We are as optimistic as we have ever been. There are so many signs on the horizon, that this is going to work and that this is the year to do it,” he said.

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