The Northern Lights Express
Moving People by Rail
Back in the 1980’s the Northstar train carried passengers between the Twin Cities and Duluth with several stops in between. My future husband would get on the train in Sandstone and I would pick him up in St. Paul, where I worked and lived at the time. For him the commute was fun and inexpensive.
We were just reminiscing about a major snowstorm that shut down traffic on the freeway and yet the train still moved passengers without delay.
I loved that train.
Several people lined up to testify at a December 11th field hearing before the House Transportation Finance and Policy Division Committee at UMD. They spoke about their past ridership experiences, and in support of a return to rail travel.
Perhaps the most moving testimony came from Representative Mary Murphy, author of House File 387 that would appropriate $4,000,000 for the Northern Lights Express high-speed rail project.
The appropriation would be used to maximize non-State funding for the project designed to reintroduce passenger rail travel between Duluth and the Twin Cities.
Representative Murphy told committee members that people want options.
Fresh off a 17-day tour gathering information on the infrastructure needs of Minnesota communities, Murphy spoke of the common themes she heard from people she met: their desire to connect with other communities, and for people to have more options to get from one place to another.
Time to get on board the NLX
The old Northstar Line went along way in connecting communities and people. Despite increasing ridership the decision was made years ago to end that service. Many of us were saddened when the last train made its final journey north on Easter Sunday, 1985.
A lot has changed since then. If you’ve sat on the freeway between Forest Lake and Harris on a Friday afternoon or the day before a big holiday, you’ll probably agree we need to look at new transportation options.
One of those options is the Northern Lights Express, part of a comprehensive statewide freight and passenger rail plan.
The idea for the NLX was hatched 12 years ago in Congressman James Obertar’s Chisholm office. Among its fiercest supporters is Ken Buehler, the chair of the NLX Technical Advisory Committee.
He said the committee plans call for four trains a day to travel on BNSF tracks, at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour between the Twin Cities and Duluth. Buehler said the NLX will “change everything.”
Phillip Qualy, director of SMART’s (Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transit Union) Minnesota Legislative Board told lawmakers at the hearing, “Minnesota’s future is dependent on remaining competitive in the national and world marketplace. Efficient and integrated passenger service across Minnesota is a key component that can lead to exponential business growth and improved quality of life for all Minnesotans.”
Buehler and Qualy are not alone in their enthusiasm.
Community leaders and future passengers are excited about the opportunities this project will inspire.
Imagine leaving the car at home, kicking back in a train car and accessing the internet to write a blog, conduct business or simply watch a good movie. How about taking a train to visit grandchildren, or commuting to work? Now imagine fewer cars on I-35, and the possibilities of riding a train beyond the Twin Cities to points east and west.
My husband and I travel by car to Colorado each year. Given the opportunity, we’d eagerly jump on board for a train ride out west.
It’s an idea whose time has come
The late Willard Munger was among passenger rail’s early champions. Today we have Representative Mary Murphy who pointed out she’s introduced legislation on behalf of the NLX year after year in this new century.
Many of us believe it’s an idea whose time has come and stand behind her efforts. Let’s get House File 387 passed and delivered to the governor’s desk, clearing the way for this train to get rolling up and down the track.
As always, I welcome your comments.
Candidate for Senate District 11
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