More federal dough for rail from Minneapolis to Duluth

Secretary LaHood handed out $2 billion of our federal tax dollars today for passenger rail projects.

The biggest pile – nearly $800 million – will go to northeastern U.S. commuter rail service.

A decent chunk of change – about $400 million – is aimed at improving Midwest service, including rail from Chicago to St. Louis.

Minnesota snagged $5 million.

The cash goes to the folks trying to get the Northern Lights Express, NLX, service on track from downtown Minneapolis to Duluth. This map of the proposed route is courtesy of the Northern Lights Express.

Northern Lights map.jpg

They’d asked for $10 million. And it’ll take a lot more – estimates range from half a billion to nearly a billion dollars – to actually get trains running, with no clear sign at the moment of where that money will come from.

The NLX was former U.S. Rep. James Oberstar’s pet. Attempts to learn freshman 8th district Rep. Chip Cravaack’s NLX position didn’t net a timely response.

NLX supporters say the $5 million, along with $10 million in state borrowing approved by lawmakers last session for the project, helps pay for “phase one engineering”. Obviously, it’s a long way from reality.

Rail buffs take the long view. It took half a century to dismantle a once-extensive national rail service network. And they argue it will take decades to restore a measure of that service.

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