nlxlogoState officials have revised the estimated cost of the Northern Lights Express to $990 million. The number could become reality if the Northern Lights Express is built using the “worst case scenario.” Federal money could pay up to 80% of the project, but supporters and the state need to find common ground on what the estimated cost is to submit an application for federal funding.

8th district Congressman Jim Oberstar, chair of the U.S.  House Transportation Committee disagrees. In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, Oberstar said “Those are factors yet to be determined…Resolution of those open-end issues will determine its overall cost. I don’t see the need for a billion-dollar investment.”

The line would spur an estimated $2 billion in investment, according to the Northern Lights Express Passenger Rail Project (NLX). However, headaches started when the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) and NLX found major discrepancies in their visions of the line. Some of the key sticking points are:

  • The number of trains – MNDOT wants up to eight trains costing and extra $140 million, NLX suggests only three or four are needed to run the proposed eight daily trips.
  • The track – MNDOT wants two sets of track running the full length of the corridor from the Cities to Duluth, NLX says only 100 miles of the route needs to be double tracked.
  • Bridges – MNDOT wants to replace every bridge along the corridor, NLX disagrees saying if the route was only single track between Sandstone and Superior, it would eliminate the need to replace as many as four bridges, significantly reducing the cost.

MNDOT and NLX have the next several weeks to hammer out the details before the application must be sent. In the meantime, NLX is sponsoring an informational meeting on Thursday, December 3rd in Cambridge, Minnesota. The open house runs from 4:30 to 6:00pm at the Armed Forces Reserve Community Center – Assembly Hall in Cambridge.