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Northern Lights Express High Speed Passenger Rail Project from Minneapolis to Duluth, Minnesota

Environmental Assessment & Finding of No Significant Impact

The Minneapolis-Duluth/Superior Passenger Rail Alliance (Alliance), in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), proposes to construct the necessary infrastructure for, and to operate, an approximately 155-mile long, high-speed intercity passenger rail service between Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota. This service, known as the Northern Lights Express (NLX) service, would include eight round trips (16 trains) per day, operating at speeds up to 110 miles per hour. A portion of the service would travel through Douglas County in Wisconsin. .

A Tier 1 Service Level Environmental Assessment (EA) was prepared by MnDOT in consultation with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Alliance and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT). The EA was prepared in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), FRA’s Procedures for Considering Environmental Impacts (64 FR 28545), Minnesota Statutes 116D, Wisconsin Statutes Section 1.11, Wisconsin Administrative Code, TRANS 400. The EA evaluates the service-wide environmental impacts of the proposed action and sets the foundation for subsequent Tier 2 or project level NEPA documentation.

This project has received money from High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program grants in the amount of $1.1 million in addition to earmarks for $500,000 and $475,000. The completion of project level NEPA on discrete capital projects is required prior to the implementation of the proposed NLX service.

The Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) is being made at the Tier 1 Level. The FONSI describes the purpose and need for the proposed project, alternatives considered, public and agency coordination, and environmental consequences and identified mitigation.

Tier 2 Project Level Environmental Assessment

FRA has approved the publication of the Tier 2 Project Level Environmental Assessment for the Northern Lights Express High Speed Passenger Rail Project from Minneapolis to Duluth, MN.

Comments on the Tier 2 EA will be received until May 24, 2017. To afford an opportunity for all interested persons and agencies to comment on the proposed action, public meetings will be held in mid-May, 2017.

The NLX Tier 2 Project Level EA builds on the Tier 1 Service Level EA prepared in 2013. The Tier 2 EA addresses specific project-related issues and likely environmental effects associated with proposed track infrastructure, stations, and layover and maintenance facilities.

MnDOT and the FRA, in cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), published the Tier 2 Project Level Environmental Assessment for the Northern Lights Express High Speed Passenger Rail Project from Minneapolis to Duluth, MN.  MnDOT, in cooperation with WisDOT assisted FRA in the development of the Tier 2 EA. 

The Tier 2 EA documents the purpose and need of the project along with the anticipated social, economic, transportation, and environmental impacts. The Tier 2 EA addresses specific NLX Project-related impacts associated with proposed NLX service operations and construction, including track infrastructure, stations, and maintenance and layover facilities and measures to avoid, minimize and mitigate these impacts.”  

Comments on the Tier 2 EA document will be received through May 24, 2017, and can be submitted via email at nlx.dot@state.mn.us or directed to:

Francis Loetterle, Project Manager
Minnesota Department of Transportation
395 John Ireland Boulevard, MS 470
Saint Paul, MN 55155-1800

The comments received will be used by MnDOT, FRA, and WisDOT in deciding whether there is potential for this project to result in significant impacts to the environment and whether an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required.

To afford an opportunity for all interested persons and agencies to comment on the proposed action, public meetings will be held.

Public meetings

Public meetings, hosted by MnDOT, are being held to receive comments on the Tier 2 Project Level Environmental Assessment for the Northern Lights Express Passenger Rail Project.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017
5:30-7:30 p.m.
Sandstone Senior Center
206 Main Street
Sandstone, MN 55072

Wednesday, May 17, 2017
5:30-7:30 p.m.
Duluth Depot
506 W. Michigan Street
Duluth, MN 55802*

Thursday, May 18, 2017
5:30-7:30 p.m.
Coon Rapids Civic Center
11155 Robinson Drive NW
Coon Rapids, MN 55433

*The public meeting in Duluth will also serve as a public hearing to meet requirements under Wisconsin Administrative Code Chapter TRANS 400.11, Distribution and Review of Environmental Documents. The format and information provided at the Duluth meeting will be the same as the meetings in Sandstone and Coon Rapids.

The Tier 2 Project Level EA can be downloaded below or viewed in hard copy at:

  • MnDOT Library, MnDOT Transportation Building, 395 John Ireland Boulevard, St. Paul, MN 55155-1800
  • Cambridge Public Library 244 South Birch Street, Cambridge, MN 55008
  • Coon Rapids Crooked Lake Branch Library, 11440 Crooked Lake Boulevard NW, Coon Rapids, MN 55433
  • Duluth Public Library, 520 W. Superior Street, Duluth, MN 55802
  • Hennepin County Library – Minneapolis Central, Environmental Conservation Library, 300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN 55401-1992
  • Hinckley Public Library, 106 First Street SE, Hinckley, MN 55037
  • Sandstone Public Library, 119 N. Fourth Street, Sandstone, MN 55072
  • Superior Public Library, 1530 Tower Avenue, Superior, WI 54880
  • WisDOT Northwest Region Office, 1701 N. 4th Street, Superior, WI 54880
  • WisDOT Transportation Library, 4802 Sheboygan Ave, Room 100A, Madison, WI 53707

Tier 2 Project Level Environmental Assessment and Appendices

Files are in PDF format.

Other documents

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