Will you get on board the Northern Lights Express?

By Greg Hunt

Members of the Northern Lights Express alliance have been hitting several government meetings recently to keep their project in the public’s collective mind. The high-speed light rail proposed to run from Duluth to Minneapolis along the present Burlington Northern-Sante Fe line is an intriguing, timely idea which needs federal funds to get rolling.

The big questions for any present and future taxpayer are: would I use this form of transportation enough to support the mission, and will it indeed bring economic vitality to our towns along the route?

To help form an educated opinion, plan on attending one of the following public information meetings: Monday, April 23, 5 p.m. at Cambridge-Isanti High School and 7 p.m. at Braham High School or Tuesday, April 24, 6:30 p.m. at Pine City City Hall (315 Main St. S). There will be presentations and booths to share outlooks for the eight-train layout, safety concerns at crossings, the kiosk fares and other subjects.

I listened to a quick update presentation from the NLX alliance when Isanti County Commissioner Larry Southerland and the group attended the April 3 Braham City Council meeting.

Nancy Frick outlined key environmental impacts for a train which would zip down the line at 110 mph. A key one for the city of Braham would be the extra line – which would be separated 30-feet from the existing BNSF rail over the majority of the miles – would need to be closed to 15-feet through town in order to keep businesses such as Black Dog Archery, Frandsen Bank & Trust and Kline Oil gas station from having to be relocated. Fencing along Freedom Park would be needed to keep people wandering on to the tracks, along with upgraded crossings added to streets (ie. lots of $ needed for the safety improvements).

Just listening to energetic NLX alliance member Ken Buehler would make attending the informational meeting worth it. Buehler is the owner/director of the Lake Superior Railroad Museum and Depot in Duluth. At the Braham Council meeting, he presented several reasons why now is the time for Minnesota to extend its light-rail options: gas prices approaching European levels; congested, over-crowded roadways which show no sign of relief; a Boston-to-Portland, Maine high-speed rail that is showing successful rider numbers.

He continued that the NLX would be perfect for commuters who can remain productive on their rides by knocking out work on their cells and laptops. For those looking for a more relaxing ride, there would be a “quiet car” (no electronics allowed) and a bar car. At present, the only 3-minute stops are planned for Hinckley, Cambridge and Coon Rapids along the route.

To get more background on the high-speed light rail project, visit www.northernlightsexpress.org.