The Northern Lights Express intercity rail proposal, connecting Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota with a stop in Superior, Wisconsin, advanced forward following a Finding of No Significant Impact (“FONSI”) from the Federal Railroad Administration (“FRA”). The FRA’s decision found that the proposed rail project would not have any significant environmental impacts and allows the project to advance beyond the environmental phase.

Project proponents envision a rail service connecting six stations operating across existing BNSF Railway track. The Northern Lights Express trains would travel at 90 miles per hour over 152 miles. The new rail service would operate four round trips per day. The majority of the track is in Minnesota, but 23 miles will cross Wisconsin.

The project would require construction of 42 miles of mainline and sidings to permit the Northern Lights Express passenger trains to share the corridor with BNSF Railway’s freight trains. In order to accommodate higher passenger train speeds, the project requires rehabilitating the existing rail line, which will require new turnouts, crossovers, and improving the ballast.

The FRA, acting as the lead federal agency, provided $5 million in grant funding and the Minnesota DOT provided $3 million for the environmental analysis, preliminary engineering, service development, and financial management plan. Although, FRA’s issuance of a FONSI is a significant step forward for the project, funding for the final design and construction has so far not been identified.