Last month, the Minnesota legislature passed their colossal transportation omnibus bill. With the included tax and spending increases was funding for the “Northern Lights Express” train line, which will soon take passengers from the Twin Cities up to Duluth.
The state government only needed to front 20% of the cost, while the federal government picks up the rest of the tab. With the allocated $194.7 million for the project, the Biden administration will put up as much as $800 million.
The line will operate off of existing rail owned by BNSF Railway and will be managed by Amtrack. Nevertheless, it is an expensive project that most Minnesotans will probably never use.
The sprawling Duluth/Superior area is not easy to navigate by foot. If visitors from the Twin Cities make their way up there, they will have limited options on what they’re able to do.
Lefist Democrat Senator Jen McEwen argues that “Some people can’t drive. Some people don’t own cars.” She also acknowledges that the trip time will be nearly the same as driving. For years, legislators like McEwen have made the same argument for the purposes of "equitable outcomes."
Credit: MN Department of Transportation
Another Senator (who represents a district just south of Duluth) argues that there is no demand from his constituents, further proving that this expensive rail will see little usage.
The total project is estimated to cost $592 million, though we know that government projects never stick to a budget. After renovations are done to existing tracks, improved traffic signals, and new stations, annual operating costs will be $19 million.
With an estimated 700,000 riders per year (it will likely be nowhere close to this), and about $12 million in ticket revenue - $30 per - the government will have paid $855 per rider in the first year. This number will slowly drop over the years, but the state government will still be on the hook for $6.9 million in operating costs.
For some perspective, a gallon of gas will get you an average of 25 mpg. With a trip from Minneapolis to Duluth being around 155 miles, and gas prices costing an average of $3.50 per gallon, it would only cost about $22 for a trip in the car. That's $8 cheaper than a ticket up north, and 15 minutes faster depending on the traffic (and that's for the few people who go at or under the speed limit). Plus, you'll have a car to drive around the city.
Needless to say, it makes more sense to drive.
This $200 million is being spent on just a handful of Minnesotans, instead of being part of the rebate checks that taxpayers deserve. The state government overtaxed Minnesotans by an incredible $21 billion this past year, which amounts to about $8,000 per taxpayer.
Instead of a full (or even significant partial) refund, some Minnesotans will receive $260 checks. This is because some politicians in St. Paul decided that an equitable train line to Duluth for a few people who cannot drive is more important than meaningful tax relief.