For a high speed passenger rail line, the proposed Northern Lights Express has taken a long time to get up and running, with much farther to go before reaching its destination of $1 billion in funding.
As the gears of government grind along on ridership and other studies, local opposition to bringing back the abandoned Amtrak 155 mile route from the Twin Cities to Duluth continues to gain steam.
“I think there’s a lot of unknowns and I think people, when it’s unfamiliar to them, their first reaction is to be unsupportive,” said Mary McFarland Brooks, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
The Pine County Board of Commissioners became the most recent mutineer, following the earlier example of Anoka County in pulling out of the Minneapolis-Duluth/Superior Passenger Rail Alliance that’s promoted NLX since 2007.
“Our local constituents have gotten very vocal about this,” said Mitch Pangerl, a Pine County commissioner who voted to withdraw county financial support from NLX. “I don’t feel there’s funding there to do it, and I feel there’s enough opposition that, yeah, we can stop this.”
The Minnesota Department of Transportation views NLX as a key component and test of the viability of a nine-state Midwestern high-speed passenger rail network stretching from Nebraska to Ohio. After hearing anti-train questions and concerns at a recent community meeting, the state’s top official for passenger rail realizes it could be a long haul.
“I think the majority of the opposition to the project — and it’s evident in Anoka County, too — is the political climate changed on the government supporting passenger rail mode,” said Dan Krom, director of MDOT’s passenger rail office.
Some 1,200 Pine County residents have signed an anti-NLX petition that was recently sent to sympathetic members of the Minnesota State Legislature.