Minnesota Department of Transportation

511 Travel Info

Northern Lights Express

Proposed passenger rail service between Minneapolis and Duluth, MN

Preliminary engineering and Tier 2 environmental review

The NLX project is transitioning into the next phase of project development, which includes preliminary engineering and Tier 2 project level environmental review. This transition includes management changes on the NLX project. Since 2007, the Minneapolis-Duluth/Superior Passenger Rail Alliance, a joint powers board of Minnesota and Wisconsin counties and cities and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, has advocated for and advanced the NLX project. With the completion of the NLX Tier 1 EA, MnDOT and FRA, in cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Alliance, will now lead the effort to advance the project. MnDOT has hired Quandel Consultants, a firm with extensive high speed passenger rail experience, to assist with project management oversight, and coordination of preliminary engineering activities, Tier 2 environmental review and financial planning. Preliminary engineering and Tier 2 environmental review is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2015.

Preliminary engineering

MnDOT is preparing to hire two consultant firms to begin preliminary engineering work on the project in 2014. The consultants will prepare:

  • Preliminary engineering plans and environmental documentation for stations, layover facilities and the light maintenance facility
  • Preliminary engineering plans for public and private roadways and bridges

Preliminary design of track, structures and systems along the BNSF right of way will be completed by the BNSF Railway.

The station and facility consultant will help MnDOT and the local communities in selecting sites for stations, layover facilities and the light maintenance facility. This consultant will also be responsible for the necessary environmental documentation for the entire project, primarily at locations where more detailed review is required. At this stage of the NLX project, only preliminary design of stations and other facilities will be completed; including the determination of location, size, functional requirements and environmental impacts. More detailed architectural design will occur when the project is fully funded for construction and operation.

The public and private roadway consultant will prepare the preliminary design for roadways that require modification. The preliminary engineering plans will include the redesign of roadways and the specification of warning devices at grade crossings. Grade crossing warning devices include such things as flashing lights, gates and signs. Solicitation for these contracts will be advertised in the next several weeks.

Tier 2 environmental review

Tier 2 environmental review will further analyze potential environmental impacts and identify avoidance, minimization and mitigation measures as preliminary engineering advances. Stakeholder involvement and public participation will be scheduled throughout the next phase.