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All aboard? High-speed train from Twin Cities to Duluth under study

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Imagine being able to ride a train from the Twin Cities to Duluth, and make it there in two hours.

A proposal to build high-speed passenger train service between the two metro areas is gaining momentum as state officials gather feedback from communities along the likely route.

The project is called the Northern Lights Express, and it's actually been under discussion for several years.

But the planning for it didn't really get underway in earnest until 2011, when the project received a $5 million grant from the federal government to pay for preliminary engineering and environmental work.

The trains would run on existing Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight rails and connect downtown Minneapolis with downtown Duluth at speeds of up to 110 miles per hour.

The current plan calls for stations in four communities along the route to drop off and pick up passengers – Coon Rapids, Cambridge, Hinckley and Superior, Wisconsin.

Minnesota transportation officials scheduled open houses in those communities over the past week or so to hear what local residents had to say, and talk about where the train stations might be located.

At Thursday's open house in Superior, resident Thom Reistad said he likes the idea so far.

"If we get people back and forth from the Twin Ports to the Twin Cities in a hurry, that's just going to be awesome for our area," said Reistad, according to the Northland News Center.

It would also make it easier for the people who need to travel between the two destinations.

According to WCCO, between 20,000 and 30,000 vehicles drive on Interstate 35 from the Twin Cities to Duluth, or vice versa, every day. Depending on the weather and the traffic, the trip can take nearly three hours.

One of those regular drivers is Nancy Lara, who told WCCO she thinks the high-speed train is a good idea.

“It would be a quick and easy way to go, and I wouldn’t have to drive. I think it would really be nice,” Lara said.

The last open house is in Hinckley on Wednesday, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Hinckley Finlayson High School.

There's still quite a long way to go to see if the Northern Lights Express will become a reality.

The current engineering and environmental studies will be done in 2016, and then the project will need to apply for federal funds to help pay the cost, according to MnDOT.

If all that goes off without a hitch, construction could begin by 2017 and the trains could begin running in 2020.

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