Minnesota Department of Transportation

511 Travel Info

Northern Lights Express


MnDOT thoroughly analyzed the NLX Project and its impacts. Through its analysis, coordination with affected agencies, public and community involvement, and comment letters received, MnDOT has determined that the proposed project, as described in the Tier 2 EA, does not have the potential for significant impact and has issued a Negative Declaration for the project. The Negative Declaration and the Findings of Fact and Conclusions (FOF&C) supporting the decision (signed March 2, 2018) concludes the State of Minnesota’s environmental review process.

The Tier 2 Project Level Environmental Assessment builds on the Tier 1 Service Level Environmental Assessment 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 issued this EA for public review and comment during the period from April 24, 2017 through May 24, 2017. Public hearing/open house meetings were held to review and comment on the EA in May 2017.

Files are in PDF format.

On Aug. 21, 2013 the Federal Railroad Administration issued a Finding of No Significant Impact on the Tier 1 Service Level Environmental Assessment for the NLX High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Project between Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota. FRA’s issuance of a FONSI means that the NLX Project will not have significant environmental impacts and, therefore, can proceed to the preliminary engineering and Tier 2 project level environmental review phase.

The Tier 1 EA examined the 155-mile project corridor relative to social, economic and environmental impacts. The Tier 1 EA was available for public comment this spring and comments received were taken into consideration by FRA in preparation of, and included in, the FONSI. Under the state environmental review process, MnDOT, serving as the responsible governmental unit, also issued a Negative Declaration, indicating that a state environmental impact statement is not required.

Tier 1 Service Level Environmental Assessment

The Federal Railroad Administration has approved the publication of the Tier 1 Service Level Environmental Assessment for the Northern Lights Express High Speed Passenger Rail Project from Minneapolis to Duluth, MN. The Tier 1 EA was prepared by MnDOT in consultation with the FRA, the Minneapolis-Duluth/Superior Passenger Rail Alliance and with cooperation from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. It documents the purpose and need of the project along with the anticipated service-wide social, economic and environmental impacts. It also sets the foundation for subsequent Tier 2 Project Level EAs to be completed as additional design details are developed. It was available for public comment March 18, 2013 through April 17, 2013.

Tier 1 Service Level Environmental Assessment and Appendices
  • NLX environmental assessment (PDF 3 MB)
  • Appendices (PDF 18 MB)
    • Appendix A - Supporting Documents (PDF 1 MB) Reference chart comparing information analyzed in the Federal Environmental Assessment and in the State Environmental Assessment Worksheet, as well as a copy of a standard EAW form. The NLX EA meets the requirements of both the federal EA and state EAW documents. Also includes a table with all the Township, Range and Sections through which the NLX corridor passes.  There is also a brief description of the three alternative development studies for the NLX corridor, completed prior to the NLX EA.
    • Appendix B - Alternatives Analysis (PDF 0.5 MB) Provides additional detail on the alternatives analysis of potential rail corridors and the screening that occurred to reduce the number of alternatives from 17 to the one finally selected for study in the EA. There are tables describing the various track segments and route alternatives, and two letters documenting MnDOT’s and FRA’s support of the identified route for study.
    • Appendix C-1 - Corridor Assessment Level 1 Screening Report (PDF 6 MB) provides documentation on the initial analysis of route alternatives for the NLX Corridor.  The Level 1 Screening identified the routes that met the purpose and need for the project and screened the alternatives against criteria including route distance and travel time; population; presence of route defects; capital costs.  Information on each route is included in this appendix; routes were analyzed and ranked for further study.
    • Appendix C-2 - Functional Analysis of Routes 9, 11 and 11a Level 2 Analysis (PDF 7 MB) Includes the Level 2 analysis of three routes, Routes 9, 11, and 11a, and was used to further refine the alternatives and to identify the alternative for study in the NLX EA. The Level 2 analysis provides additional information on capital cost estimates, ridership forecasts, operational costs and resulting benefit-cost analysis for the three selected routes
    • Appendix D - Bridge Rehabilitation Description (PDF 0.5 MB) Appendix D includes a description of rehabilitation that is anticipated for open deck railroad bridges in the NLX railroad corridor.
    • Appendix E - NLX Corridor Refinement, City of Braham, MN (PDF 0.5 MB) Appendix E includes information regarding efforts to minimize property impacts in Braham, Minnesota, where the railroad is located in downtown adjacent to a city park. The appendix also includes a graphic of Braham and notes from the open house meeting conducted on this matter.
    • Appendix F - Threatened and Endangered Species (PDF 0.5 MB)

      contains correspondence between FRA and the US Fish and Wildlife Service regarding threatened and endangered species, as well as lists of species in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

    • Appendix G - Wetland Assessment Methodology (PDF 0.5 MB) Detailed wetland assessment methodology, summary of field data and site locations are included in this appendix. 
    • Appendix H - Correspondence (PDF 0.5 MB) Environmental correspondence between the project staff and the US Coast Guard; Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; and Natural Resources Conservation Service are included in this appendix.
    • Appendix I - Contaminated Properties/Hazardous Materials (PDF 0.5 MB) Tables listing contaminated sites within 500 feet of new track or siding in Wisconsin and Minnesota are shown.
    • Appendix I-1 - Cultural Resources (PDF 1.5 MB) AppendixI-1 contains materials supporting the analysis of cultural resources in the EA, including correspondence; a draft Programmatic Agreement and attachments that will guide further cultural resources analysis; and the Area of Potential Effects and requests for tribal consultation for historic and archaeological resources survey. 
    • Appendix J - Community Facilities (PDF 0.5 MB) This appendix contains a list of all community facilities and their distance from the NLX corridor, in communities along the corridor.  
    • Appendix K - Public and Private Railroad Crossings (PDF 0.5 MB) This appendix contains a table showing all at-grade railroad crossings in the corridor and describes  the crossing location, type of crossing such as public or private, and current warning device.
    • Appendix L - Environmental Justice (PDF 0.5 MB) This appendix contains 2010 census data for populations, household and race, as well as income and poverty levels for each county and census tract in the NLX Corridor.  The data is used to identify, address and avoid disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of the project on minority populations and low-income populations, as called for in Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations.”
    • Appendix M - Public Involvement (PDF 0.5 MB) This appendix includes copies of a newsletter (November 2009); a flyer on public meetings in 2010; and open house summary reports from eight meetings held between December 2009 and August 2010.

Historic property survey reports:
Assessment of effects:
Section 106 Programmatic Agreement
  • Appendix I-1 - Cultural Resources (PDF 1.5 MB) AppendixI-1 contains materials supporting the analysis of cultural resources in the EA, including correspondence; a draft Programmatic Agreement and attachments that will guide further cultural resources analysis; and the Area of Potential Effects and requests for tribal consultation for historic and archaeological resources survey. 
Section 106 Programmatic Agreement Annual Reports