As I am sure many of you have heard, maybe not recently, but at least in the last three years, a commuter rail line is once again trying to be constructed between Duluth and Minneapolis. The Northern Lights Express is a 155 mile long rail line that is proposed to be constructed between Duluth and Minneapolis, the first of its kind since Amtrack stopped service of its "North Star" line between Duluth and St Paul in 1986. What's the difference between the two? The North Star line traveled from St. Paul to Duluth and traveled at 50 MPH, thus taking almost 4 hours to arrive to Duluth. The new Northern Lights Express line will travel from Minneapolis to Duluth on almost the same tracks, with a few exceptions, but will also travel at twice the speed (110mph) and will be able to reach Duluth in almost half the time (2 hours and 15 minutes.) Not too bad right? In September 2011 the line was given $5 million to begin environmental and engineering studies. The line will travel mostly in Minnesota, with an exception towards the end when it starts to migrate eastwards so that it can make a stop in Superior. What stops will the line include? Here are the tentative stations at the current moment:
Sandstone (Yet to be determined if this will actually be a stop, or if it will just be the Layover facility)
It is planned that there will be 8 trains a day leaving from the Depot Station in Duluth and ending at Target Field in Minneapolis where a new transportation hub will be created in order to link the following lines:
NorthStar (Commuter line from Minneapolis to Big Lake, MN. It eventually will be expanded to reach St. Cloud, MN)
Hiawatha Line (**Blue Line, Light Rail line from Downtown Minneapolis to Mall of America in Bloomington, MN)
The Central Corridor Line [Opens in 2014](** Green Line, Light Rail line from Downtown Minneapolis to Downtown St. Paul)
The Southwest Corridor Line [Opens tentatively in 2016](**Red Line, Light Rail line from Downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, MN)
Amtrack's "Empire Builder" (This route will change its station from the Midway Station in St. Paul to the former Union Depot in St. Paul in 2012. One will be able to get to this station from Minneapolis by taking the Central Corridor light rail line, therefore Duluth will also be connected to St. Paul, Chicago and almost the entire U.S. by railway.)
The Northern Lights Express is expected to create 415,000 years of work for the 30 years of life it is planned to have before reviatalization, with an income benefit of $11 Billion, property value benefit of $1.8 million, state tax benefit of $0.9 million and an overall tax benefit of $2.2 billion.
So ultimately, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR DULUTH?
Right now if everything pans out as expected, it means that Duluth would receive between $140 and $190 million dollars of economic development. The site around the Depot area is expected to completely change, with a new trendy and urban center to be formed. That area will grow to include new housing units (condos and apartments), retail, entertainment, and more! Refer to the Depot link below to see conceptual images. Not only will that area go under renovations, but also the Depot itself will drastically changed. However don't be afraid that it will lose its heritage. The new addition to create modern stations for the the NLX trains will keep in mind the historic past of the Depot, while also maintaining to the modern comforts that transit customers have become use to. A recent survey shows that most people in Minneapolis would not reject living in Duluth, nor would the reject the commute to Minneapolis. Most people who live in the Twin Cities area already have a commute between one and two hours each day, and that's just one way. By having this line, those commuters would be able to avoid traffic and also be able to use the time on the train to either work (as it would have tables and outlets), sleep, eat, or converse with family over the phone. When the Northern Lights Express opens Duluth is expected to see a MAJOR addition of not only development, but also population. Although it may take a few years for the population to really start climbing, the new commuter rail really is expected to contribute a lot to Duluth's growth. Other studies show that not only will Duluth's residential and retail sectors grow, but also Duluth's tourism sector will grow immensely. The areas of impact most immediately will clearly be the downtown, but over the course of five to ten years after its opening, Duluth will be seeing growth in all sectors.
This connection to the cities is something that once again will make Duluth a destination for all. But this time is won't be a destination for just play, but also a destination to live.
The Northern Lights Express currently has no set timeline to open, however plans are hopeful that it will open in 2015. With fares ranging between $20 and $30 (and keep in mind that most large employers would pay for the commute or offer an extremely large discount to their workers who ride the line) the Northern Lights Express truly is going to create a unique and stress free connection between the metropolis of the Twin Cities and the picturesque city of Duluth.
Above is a link to the Depot website where you can view plans of what the new Duluth Depot would be like with the expansion and renovation for the Northern Lights Express line.