Oberstar announces grant to advance Duluth to Minneapolis high-speed rail

Though this blog is not normally a clearing house for press releases, this release came from U.S. Rep Jim Oberstar’s office this afternoon. I think the U.S. should, where feasible, invest in rail service for commuters. It’s more sustainable from an energy use perspective and much of the “work” of the 21st century economy could be conducted from a train. That means people who have a two hour commute from Duluth to Minneapolis starting at 5 a.m. could check their e-mail, schedule their day and prepare their (reports, databases, manifestos) before they even check into the office at 8. The time would otherwise have been spent driving a car on I-35, perhaps listening to a book on tape, but more likely listening to the vacuous droning of commercial radio. The time on the ride home could be spent drinking hooch from a bottle in a paper bag. Behold, the future!

There has to be a better way.

Oberstar Announces Grant for Duluth to Minneapolis Line

Washington DC – A federal grant will move the Duluth to Minneapolis high-speed passenger rail line closer to completion. Today, Congressman Jim Oberstar announced that the project has been awarded $1.1 million from the Federal Railroad Administration. The funding will be used to complete an environmental impact statement for the project.

“Work on the Northern Lights Express is moving along at full throttle,” said Oberstar. “This is the kind of project that will save energy and alleviate congestion on our highways. With high fuel prices, we need to do all we can to give consumers alternatives to driving.”

“Countless communities across the nation are waking up to the economic advantages of brining high-speed passenger rail to their towns and cities. This grant will enable the Northern Lights Express to take a giant step forward toward the very front of that long line of communities,” said Steve Raukar, Chairman of the Northern Lights Express Passenger Rail Joint Powers Board.

When completed, the Northstar Express will run 150 miles from Duluth to downtown Minneapolis at speeds of up to 110 mph. Portions of the line could become operational by the end of next year.

Investing in passenger and commuter rail has been one of Oberstar’s priorities as chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. This week, the U.S. Senate is expected to consider legislation, authored by Oberstar, to authorize additional funding for intercity rail projects and high-speed rail by $680 million a year for the next five years. When the study and design work is finished, the Duluth to Minneapolis line will be eligible to apply for that funding.


  1. What has happened to this country? Over one million dollars just for an environmental impact statement? A million dollars just to push paper work around. What will it cost to actually build something?

    I do think that more rail service is a good idea. It’s too bad it that it is going to be so expensive.


  2. This seems silly. How realistic is it to expect that a commuter rail line from Duluth to Minneapolis is realistic? Do the numbers add up?

    Is this a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist?

    What happens when the rail line is completed and then no one uses the train? The cost per ticket would need to be $30-50 a day at a minimum.

  3. Well, I can’t speak for the ridership projections on this project, but the Hiawatha Line runs full in the Twin Cities and I think commuter rail is getting to be more viable with the increase in commuters and gas costs.

    Maybe this is dear to my heart because I commuted 90 minutes one way one year of my life. That was lost time that could have been used if rail was an option … not that we’re close to a Range-Duluth line (but, if this works, that might come some day).

  4. It is true that the Hiawatha Light Rail has lots of riders. But will it ever pay off it’s 700+ million dolar cost? Like the Hi-Speed TC-Chicago idea – where does the money come from? I do not see private investment in the future. And we are now stuck with about 700B of bad credit to pay off….

  5. You know what also costs a lot. Schools. Damn if we’ll ever pay off those suckers.

    The point, and the only reason for investing anything in commuter rail, is to increase quality of life, efficiency and reduce oil usage. The benefits are calculable but might not be as simple to record as “paid for.”

  6. The Hiawatha LRT will pay off through surrounding private investment. When you’re in the area, check out all the building which is happening along the corridor — brand new condos are popping up all through there. There is a high demand to live near fixed, dependable transit. The train may never ‘pay for itself’ directly, but the long-term investments it generates will substantially dwarf the original fixed cost.

  7. As someone who lives in Los Angeles, a city that 30 years ago said “Rail? Who needs rail? We have cars!” and is now deeply regretting it, let me say this is a great move. If Minneapolis and other major cities work to get these rail components in place, you won’t end up in the same situation as L.A., where it takes me literally an hour and 15 minutes to drive 9 miles to work each morning.

    As for the cost, $700 million is cheap for a rail line, especially when most of it is coming from federal funding. Fifteen years from now, when you badly need it, the cost for the same line will be a billion or more.

    As for whether it will make money, it won’t. Ever. Even New York’s subway system, the most successful rail line in the country, doesn’t make money. They earn profits for 3-4 years, then lose money for 6-7 years because of all the repairs and upkeep. But the point is not to make money, it’s to provide a necessary alternative to cars. In 30 years, you won’t even be able to imagine living without it, just like New Yorkers can’t imagine life without their subway system.

  8. I think a million dollars to plan light rail is a much better plan than 700 billion dollars of giving more money to the rich!

  9. I love riding the train, and rode the commuter lines in Chicago for years. But I’m darned if I can see how this plan for rail service between Duluth and the Twin Cities will ever work. Sorry – but even if I was paid to ride it, I would still drive because “the cities” is just too big to deliver me where I want to go without it taking all day to get there, even if the train is really fast.

    If you want to build rail lines that have meaning, concentrate them in the Twin Cities area. There you have enough concentration of population to ensure ridership and economic benefit. We might even try building some kind of intra-city rail system IN Duluth first, maybe to commute people across the bay to and from Superior, just to see if northerners have the appetite for it. I predict they do not.

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