Trains.com
You have 2 views remaining. Click here to learn about the Unlimited Membership!

Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / Minnesota Senate kills Twin Cities-Duluth passenger rail proposal

Minnesota Senate kills Twin Cities-Duluth passenger rail proposal

By | May 3, 2022

State senator compares rail service to spending money on ‘buggy whips’

Email Newsletter

Get the newest photos, videos, stories and more.

Map showing proposed Twin Cities-Duluth passenger rail route
Map showing proposed Twin Cities-Duluth passenger rail route
The route of the proposed Northern Lights Express. A budget amendment passed by the Minnesota Senate bans funding for the project. (Northern Lights Express Alliance)

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota’s state Senate has blocked efforts to launch passenger rail service between the Twin Cities and Duluth, passing a budget amendment by a senator who said the idea was “like asking us to spend money on buggy whips.”

Minnesota Public Radio reports the amendment by Sen. David Osmek (R-Mound, Minn.) prohibits the state transportation commissioner and the Metropolitan Council, the governing body for the Twin Cities region, from spending any money on the proposed Northern Lights Express.

The amendment passed by a 35-31 vote; a larger funding bill then passed 40-26.

Osmek called the idea “a 19th century solution to transportation in Minnesota.”

The Senate vote came less than a week after the state House passed a bill with $51 million in funding for the Duluth passenger project.

24 thoughts on “Minnesota Senate kills Twin Cities-Duluth passenger rail proposal

  1. Of course another GOP member that didn’t get a train set for Christmas and years later takes out his angst. Meanwhile in the rest of the World….

  2. From what I can see this vote could have gone either way, for or against the expenditure depending on a few swing votes. Make of the decision what you will. I certainly don’t agree with the Republican senator who likens passenger trains to buggy whips. That’s a ridiculous statement. On the other hand, I like to look closely at what’s being asked. I’m far from the only Republican in Wisconsin to support state funding of the Hiawatha (and the three new station buildings) but oppose the Madison train. My opinions are in line with virtually the entire Republican party in this state.

    Amtrak has been around a while. You have people who oppose any passenger train subsidy, and you have people who get rah-rah behind any proposal as long as the rails are 4 feet 8 1/2 inches apart. In between are people like me who want to know what’s proposed and whether or not it makes sense. Also we want (with the Gateway and Baltimore tunnels) for the Northeastern states to pay their share as we in the Midwest have been doing.

    1. I appreciate this approach, Charles. I don’t always agree with your opinions, but I appreciate reading them nonetheless.

    2. Charles, what was wrong with the extension of the Hiawatha Service to Madison? To me doing that was a no-brainer and to this day I detest Scott Walker for that (and a few other things too).

      1. Mark Mark Mark, you break my heart! We always agreed on everything until now but on this we do not! Gee, I even thought we were the same person, me the born and bred Mass Hole living in the Midwest where my wife is from, you the native Midwesterner living in your wife’s home town in Massachusetts.

        Madison train No-Brainer you say??? The IH-94 Freeway is a straight shot Milwaukee to Waukesha and on to MadTown. Buses from MIlwaukee and Waukesha can go direct to downtown Madsion (where the state offices and other businesses are located) and/or the U-W campus.

        The rail route (exsting CP connected at Watertown to a former MILW tracks to be reinstated) goes all over the place, and includes a slow-speed, curvy and indirect run Milwaukee – Wauwatosa – Elm Grove – Brookfield – Pewaukee. When the train would arrive in MadTown hours later, only God and WisDOT (synonyms, in the mind of the latter) knew where the station would be, maybe as far out of town as the Madison airport.

        The proposed service did have some factors going for it (1) reasonable frequency (2) through service to Milwaukee Airport (actually, an extremely useful south suburban train station having little to do with aviation) and Sturtevant (Racine County) and on to Chicago.

        The bottom line on the MadTown proposal was this: Calling it “High Speed Rail” was a total lie, leading to the proposal’s death by its own hand. If WisDOT (then under Democrat Governor Jim Doyle) had simply called it “a train”, as opposed to “HSR”, it my be running now.

        1. Charles, Charles, Charles, (couldn’t resist that) you make good points as usual and you sure know the territory better. For sure, we are in complete agreement that the MKE-“MadTown” segment never should have been characterized as HSR and I thought so at the time. Everything passenger rail back then had to be called HSR because Obama kept using the term and that gave it the legitimacy it didn’t deserve. I called it “an Obama disease” back then. I didn’t know there was no firm plan for a downtown station that would be in walking distance to many destinations or perhaps by local bus lines that would call at such station. As for potential ridership, I envisioned it to be mostly to/from CHI and its northern suburbs. I never thought local MKE-“MadTown” would be much of a factor. Oh one more thing: I’m a New York City native who grew up on the middle west side of Manhattan, 72nd Street between Broadway and West End Ave to be exact. I made pilgrimage to Chicago in late 1971 after I had landed a job as tower op trainee on the IC Commuter Division.

        2. Could it be that this Wisconsin Republican is quite OK with the Hiawatha extension to Waukesha, Pewaukee and other Republican enclaves in the vicinity, but just can’t countenance an extension to that evil Democratic Gomorrah of Madison?

          1. You try to score cheap political points but there’s zero to back it up. No Republican is on board with what you speculate.

  3. This is the shape of things to come if/when GOP retake Congress next year. There will no longer be the question of what Amtrak’s priorities will be to expand the nation’s pass rail network with the historic level of funding they were to receive it will be GONE clawed back & repurposed into tax cuts for the rich & corps and maybe a gas tax holiday for the peons.

    1. I didn’t know, Galen, that Joe Biden is GOP. As far as I know he’s a extreme-left Democrat. Amtrak is in ruins under his watch.

      1. Charles: When is the last time you rode Amtrak? I rode Amtrak round trip in early March 2022 and before that in July and October. NOTHING I experienced on those train rides suggested a system in ruins.

        To clarify, it is the GOP, as evidenced by ites 2016 platform (not updated in 2020), which states that federal funding for Amtrak should be eliminated.

  4. “Modern transportation” = highway & aviation industry..Rep. Osmek’s handlers. “Roll over boy!”

  5. As a Minnesota resident I think I can provide some background. Unfortunately in our state rail has become a partisan issue. This, I think, is due to two primary factors:
    1. Northstar commuter rail was never built to St. Cloud, instead only to Big Lake. Consequently it never met expectations, so it has been labeled a “boondoggle.” It’s also now become a Catch-22 – if they build it to St. Cloud as intended more people would ride, but it’s a tough sell because why invest in something where ridership is low?
    2. The Southwest Light Rail Project. I’ve come around on this one – it is being built in a rail corridor in the Kenwood district of Minneapolis, which is why the corridor was preserved, but in retrospect it should not have been. No one really wanted it there, and to mollify residents they are building a tunnel, which has caused huge overruns and delays. No one is happy with how it has played out and it’s become a political football.
    So this has poisoned the well for passenger rail, which of course is completely different from commuter rail and LRT, but politicians see no difference. So you end up with comments like the “buggy whip” one.
    The Minnesota Senate is very closely divided, with 34 Republicans, 31 Democrats and 2 independents. What’s sad is if the Dems just had 4 more votes, you would have NLX to Duluth. But they do not, and so chances are it’s now dead for good. Doubly sad is it was “shovel ready” for infrastructure money: the EIS studies and engineering is done, it’s ready to go. Instead that money will go elsewhere after years of work. Today it’s all about the ideology and politics, not the public interest.

  6. Once again tired old rhetoric and piss pour excuses are coming out.

    a) No rational person would spend money to run passenger trains to the small dieing but politically connected frozen town Duluth. The ridership numbers don’t justify the costs.

    b) The list about Northstar being a failure cuz it didn’t go to St Cloud needs to end. It ended at Big Lake because almost no one was going to ride it from St. Cloud. The numbers weren’t there. And they’re not there today as the bus service on route reminds us. This isn’t a surprise to the 99.9% on this planet that haven’t heard of St. Cloud. It’s tiny and incapapble of generating the traffic needed for a modern robust sustainable heavy rail commuter line.

    This isn’t about partisan politics. It’s about the technology that we know as a railroad. Steel wheels on steel rails is wonderful for minimizing friction but it requires ginormous resources up front and enormous resources to operate.

    Railroads are only sustainable with beyond ginormous volumes. The scant trickle of passengers for either of these lines is the opposite of sustainable. They’re down right damaging when you take into account the opportunity costs.

  7. I’m all for rail but have to agree with a lot of comments that some of the proposed rail expansions and therefore Amtrak Connect vision makes some big mistakes. Amtrak Connect and the states that support should put their weight in connecting regional metro areas and improving frequency on existing corridors. Otherwise, as the comments notes, the numbers are simply not there for the big upfront cost of connecting a much smaller city to a much large metro area over a distance that people are not commuting.
    ..
    So the Duluth proposal, once upon time Rochester thought and the Madison just don’t make sense on numbers. Can be the same for the proposed and separate daily train from Chicago Union Station to another IL town. I think the Twin Cities would be much much better served and money better spent if the Northstar was simply extended Southeast & capturing more of the metro area. I’m all for adding frequency to Hiawatha service and adding Empire builder/2nd daily Chicago to Twin Cities.

  8. There’s a trail. It’s only 155 miles and Google estimates 51 hours to walk. Bike is only 13 1/2 hours.

    Aren’t there highway vehicles than carry passengers? Actually, Duluth isn’t that far from Hibbing where Greyhound was founded.

  9. Yet there are flights from MSP to Duluth & Rochester both airports are money losers annually supported by local, state & federal taxpayer funds. There should not be flights for that short a distance since hwys are more suitable any flights to those regional airports should be at the full cost to the flyer. According to some of the commenters here passenger rail in general is just not economical when compared to the taxpayer funded hwys.

    1. Ah yes, thank you Ekren for introducing to the conversation the equivalent of a 4 year crying that Johnny got two cookies and you got none.

      Boo hoo. Government has it’s fingers in everything. We put money into the things that we all use and find useful. Spending a few billion on a train that a a handful of WASPs will use for their weekend vacation is neither smart nor moral. We have needs far greater than that.

  10. If transit could be made profitable, Elon Musk would beat us to it! Know nothing politicians fling “HSR” out like confetti, thinking it to be magic words to impress the uninformed masses. As much as I adore rail, it must be profitable to be sustainable. blessings

  11. Mr. Chandler, why should transit & psg rail be profitable when hwys are not? The Hwy Trust Fund has been bankrupt for over a decade Congress has funneled over $100 B into it from the Treasury adding to the deficit because drivers don’t want to pay into the fund that was suppose to sustain it?????????

  12. Mr. Graetz – correction all the roads YOU use & find useful. Where is it the responsibility of the Federal Govt to fund any roads apart from interstates beyond that it should be the responsibility of state & local govt. My tax dollars are being used above & beyond what I will ever use so a bunch of deadbeat drivers can joyride & road trip at my expense. We have greater needs than that!

    1. Mr. Riley, the government at all levels collects taxes. It’s involved in all sorts of endeavors. It is inaccurate, to put it politely, to characterize this “subsidies”.

      More so, you run down that puerile path just to argue that well, since government spends money on roads and air travel, they should spend billions on a train that nearly no one needs nor will use. The roads you poo-poo actually get used. In fact, I-35 alone just at Hinkley serves 33 1/2 times more people each year than Northern Lights Express is projected to serve.

      33 1/2 times more.

      Every other week more people use just that one stretch of freeway than that entire 120+ rail line would in a year. Pathetically nearly no one just going to use that line.

      A key part of love is accepting the shortcomings of your love.

  13. Maybe they should run this service using the CN line up through Fond du Lac and Central/Northern Wisconsin. A huge area without any service. The Soo Line ran an overnight train called the Laker until the early 1960’s. From what I hear, the ridership was respectable but loosing the mail contract was too much.
    Its sad that the opportunity to take advantage of the super efficiency of rail is caught up in corporate greed, ignorance, lies and politics.
    I live near the CN main line in and also near a busy main road and in the winter I see the enormous amounts of deicing chemicals spread on the streets after even miniscule snowfalls. While the trains zip by and blow the snow out of the way with no chemical deicer. One of the many positives I can list that increases my favorable opinion even more for restoring train service to more areas.

You must login to submit a comment