Minnesota Department of Transportation

511 Travel Info

Northern Lights Express

About the Northern Lights Express

The Northern Lights Express (NLX) is a proposed passenger train between Minneapolis and Duluth, making four round trips each day. It will also stop in Coon Rapids, Cambridge, Hinckley, and Superior, WI.

The train will operate at speeds up to 90 miles per hour. A one-way trip between the Twin Cities and Twin Ports will take about 2½ hours. This is comparable to driving. It may be faster during rush hour and in bad weather.

Amtrak will run the trains using tracks owned by BNSF Railway.

Ridership

About 700,00 to 750,000 people are projected to ride the train the first year. In 20 years, it is estimated that ridership will be about 1 million per year. These numbers consider how likely someone is to take the train instead of driving. Factors include age, gender, car ownership, cost of gas and reason for travel.

Drivers make about 3.6 billion trips between the Twin Cities and Twin Ports each year. If just 1 in 5,000 of these trips switched to the train, NLX will meet its ridership projections.

Costs

Construction cost

Construction costs include final design work, track and signal upgrades to accommodate higher speeds, new and longer sidings to improve traffic flow, grade crossing improvements to increase safety, new train stations, and the expansion of existing stations.

MnDOT is currently updating the construction cost estimate and will update this page when it is ready. The Federal Railroad Administration and MnDOT will share the construction cost:

  • Federal (80%)
  • State (20%)

Annual operating cost

The estimated annual operating cost is $18.9 million.

During the first few years of service, revenue from rider fares will average about $12 million per year and should increase over time. Other Midwest regional trains offering three or more round trips per day cover about 75% of their operating costs.

The $12 million from rider fares will cover about 63% of the operating costs. The State of Minnesota will fund the rest of the operating costs, about $6.9 million. Federal grants are available to help pay for the first six years of operation. This will help reduce the cost to Minnesota while ridership grows.

Ticket prices

When service begins, a one-way ticket between Minneapolis and Duluth will cost about $30 - $35.

Safety improvements

Public grade crossings along the route will be upgraded to include gates and flashing lights.  Some roadway approaches will also be improved to reduce the slope and improve sight lines.

Other benefits

  • An economic return of $1.10 to $1.69 for every dollar invested.
  • 3,000 construction jobs and 500 other jobs each year for the first five years.
  • $400 million in tourism revenue. This will support about 250 jobs per year and wages of $250 million over 40 years.