Passenger rail projects in Minnesota

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There are several passenger rail projects being discussed in Minnesota. There is one existing commuter rail service in the state, the Northstar Line, and one existing long-distance intercity rail service, the Empire Builder. Future projects include a mixture of short-distance commuter rail and medium-distance regional rail lines which would run from the Twin Cities outward to neighboring states and perhaps Canada.

This article is focused on heavy-rail projects and does not discuss potential light rail lines in the core Twin Cities area.

Existing service[edit]


Main article: Northstar Line

The Northstar Line is a state and federally funded commuter rail line that serves a region from Minneapolis northwest toward the central Minnesota city of St. Cloud. The line began service on November 16, 2009, and runs about half the distance to St. Cloud, terminating in Big Lake, with bus service covering the remaining distance. The train operates at up to 79 miles per hour (127 km/h).

Proposed metropolitan services[edit]

These corridors are generally less than 50 miles (80 km) in length, but could be expanded beyond that distance.

Red Rock[edit]

Main article: Red Rock Corridor

The Red Rock Corridor is a 30-mile corridor running from Hastings through downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis, in the counties of Dakota, Washington, Ramsey, and Hennepin. It uses the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Canadian Pacific rail lines, and roughly parallels U.S. Highway 61 and Interstate 94 (I-94). It was hoped to begin service by 2018 between Hastings and Minneapolis.[1]

Communities along the corridor include Hastings, Denmark Township, Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park, Newport, St. Paul, and Minneapolis. Other potential stops include the University of Minnesota, Snelling Avenue, Rice Street, Lower Afton Road, Newport, and a later extension expand to Red Wing.

The Minneapolis end of the route would be at Target Field station.

Gateway Corridor[edit]

The Gateway Corridor runs 90 miles from downtown St Paul to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, along or parallel to Interstate 94 (I-94). Studies are under way, led by the Gateway Corridor Commission, evaluating light rail, bus rapid transit and commuter rail service.[2][3]

The LRT and BRT options would run along or parallel to I-94, with potential stops in St Paul, Maplewood, Landfall, Oakdale, Woodbury, and Hudson, Wisconsin. Potential commuter rail stops along the corridor include Minneapolis, St Paul, Oakdale and Lake Elmo in Minnesota and Hudson, Baldwin, Menomonie and Eau Claire in Wisconsin.[4]

Rush Line[edit]

Main article: Rush Line Corridor

The Rush Line is a proposed mass transit link from downtown Saint Paul to Hinckley via White Bear Lake, Forest Lake and Pine City. Commuter rail, bus rapid transit, light rail transit and express bus options are under consideration for parts of the 80-mile corridor. If the heavy rail is chosen, it could connect to the Northern Lights Express in Hinckley or continue directly to Duluth.

This rail corridor has historically been known as the "Skally Line". A portion of it is still operated by the St. Croix Valley Railroad, but much has been abandoned.


The Bethel Corridor is a proposed commuter rail line along BNSF tracks between Bethel, Minnesota and downtown Minneapolis. This would follow part of the route of the proposed Northern Lights Express to Duluth, but would stop at more stations.

Norwood/Young America[edit]

The Norwood Corridor is a proposed rail line between Minnetonka and downtown Minneapolis, using existing Twin Cities & Western trackage. It is unknown if the line will go beyond the study process.

Dan Patch Line[edit]

Main article: Dan Patch Corridor

The Dan Patch Corridor is a proposed commuter rail line which runs from Minneapolis to Northfield, Minnesota. The plan was under consideration until 2002, when a bill banning further study on the route was passed.

Proposed regional services[edit]

These services will run distances of more than 50 miles (80 km) and would have the potential to run at speeds higher than the common limit of 79 mph. They will likely have fewer stops than the routes outlined above. Several routes were outlined in the 2009 Minnesota Comprehensive Statewide Freight and Passenger Rail Plan. The plan had two phases defined: Phase I for projects intended for completion before 2030, and Phase II for projects beyond that date.[5]

Northern Lights Express[edit]

The Northern Lights Express is a proposed line to Superior, Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota. About halfway along the line is Hinckley, Minnesota which is expected to be a big draw from both ends of the line due to the presence of a major casino. This could be considered inter-city rail due to a limited number of stops. It is planned to run at up to 110 miles per hour (177 km/h).


Main article: Rochester Rail Link

Part of MNDot's state rail plan is a proposed line connecting the southeastern city of Rochester with St. Paul and Minneapolis. This route would require building a new line. There is no direct freight rail connection between Rochester and the Twin Cities. Plans for the line are vague.

Southern Minnesota[edit]

From Minneapolis or St. Paul to Northfield, Faribault, Owatonna and Albert Lea, with eventual plans to go south to Des Moines and Kansas City.

Eau Claire[edit]

Along with the Northern Lights Express and the Rochester link, a line eastward to Eau Claire, Wisconsin was identified in 2009 as a Phase I corridor for implementation before 2030. It would use "enhanced conventional" service of 79 to 90 mph (127 to 145 km/h) and would likely make use of existing rails owned by the Union Pacific Railroad (ex-Omaha Road/Chicago and North Western).[5] This could become Eau Claire's first train service since the Twin Cities 400 ended service in 1963. In August 2010, it was designated as the "Gateway Corridor" and an alternatives analysis study was begun.[6]


The Minnesota Valley Line running southwest to Mankato, Minnesota was also identified as a Phase I corridor with "enhanced conventional" 79 to 90 mph speeds in 2009.[5]


Expanded service to the Fargo–Moorhead area on the North Dakota–Minnesota border is also planned for Phase I. The Amtrak Empire Builder serves this route, but it is inconveniently timed for passengers in Fargo since the trains in both directions are scheduled for station stops between 2 and 4 AM. They use BNSF Railway's busy northern transcontinental line, which is expected to need significant upgrades in order to handle increasing freight traffic.[5]

Phase II corridors[edit]

Conventional-speed trains running up to 79 mph are also planned beyond 2030 for

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kevin Giles (February 9, 2010). "Red Rock train on track for '18 in southeast metro". Star Tribune. Retrieved 2010-02-10. 
  2. ^ Kevin Giles (February 16, 2011). "I-94 transit proposals narrowed to seven". Star Tribune. Retrieved 2011-07-15. 
  3. ^ Kevin Giles (February 16, 2011). "County opts to expand I-94 transit study". Star Tribune. Retrieved 2011-07-15. 
  4. ^ "Gateway Corridor Alternatives Analysis Study". Retrieved 2011-07-15. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Minnesota Comprehensive Statewide Freight and Passenger Rail Plan (Draft Final Report)" (PDF). Cambridge Systematics. December 2009. Retrieved January 6, 2009. 
  6. ^ "Alternatives Analysis Study (AA)". Gateway Corridor Commission. 2010. Retrieved August 27, 2010. 

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