Minnesota Department of Transportation

511 Travel Info

Northern Lights Express

Proposed passenger rail service between Minneapolis and Duluth, MN

Ridership analysis

Ridership forecasts, revenue projections and estimates of public benefits are underway. All of the analysis, including how the stated preference surveys are being incorporated into the ridership ‘model’, is being reviewed by an independent Peer Review Panel to ensure consistency with generally accepted industry practice.

Financial planning and ridership study

As planning for the Northern Lights Express moves forward, it is necessary for MnDOT to determine how many people are expected to ride the train. As part of this effort, in March 2014, MnDOT conducted an extensive public survey to understand how and why travelers would choose to ride the proposed Northern Lights Express passenger train between Minneapolis and Duluth instead of driving, taking a bus or flying.

The survey was offered in a variety of ways. Randomly selected households along the Twin Cities/Duluth corridor completed the on-line based survey. In-person surveys were also conducted at several locations, such as the Mall of America in the Twin Cities and the Miller Hill Mall in Duluth. A link to the online-based survey was distributed by email to the project email list and brought in additional survey responses.

Thank you to all who participated in the survey. The results of this survey will be used to ensure that the ridership forecasts for the NLX Project are based on the anticipated travel choices of people who actually live in or who would visit the NLX corridor. Preliminary survey results are expected by late summer.

Hinckley Loop study - currently on hold

The Hinckley Loop Study is on hold awaiting the completion of the ridership forecasts being prepared for the overall NLX Project. Separate ridership forecasts for the Hinckley Loop Study are expected to be available by early 2015.


MnDOT, in cooperation with the Northern Lights Express Alliance and the Federal Railroad Administration, is examining the feasibility of an alternative station location on the NLX alignment. The Hinckley Loop study analyzes alternative alignments that would route the train from the existing track through downtown Hinckley to the Grand Casino, two miles to the east. In addition to route alignments, the study examines whether a direct link to the casino would result in sufficient ridership and revenue to justify the costs of constructing the loop.

Six alternative routes have been developed, each with a station location on the east side of the casino. The six alternative route options were presented to a group of area officials at a stakeholder engagement meeting in November 2013, where comments on the alternatives were collected. Consultant staff have narrowed down the alternatives to three alternatives and are recommending that they be advanced for further study. The three alternatives are evaluated against the no-build alternative of operating NLX trains on the existing BNSF corridor with a station stop in downtown Hinckley.


Click maps for larger PDF version.

NLX alternative route 2

NLX alternative route 4

NLX alternative route 5