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Minnesota Rep. Jim Knoblach (R-St. Cloud) on Tuesday introduced a bill that would expand the Northstar Line commuter-rail route 27 miles west to St. Cloud, Minn.
Currently, the line spans 40 miles between downtown Minneapolis and Big Lake, Minn.Knoblach's bill requires the state to contact BNSF Railway Co. to begin negotiations for the extension, according to a press release from the lawmaker's office.His proposal calls for using an existing Amtrak station in St. Cloud and requires a minimum of two roundtrips to and from Minneapolis each day. The service could accommodate students and people working in St. Cloud who live along the line, said Knoblach, noting that more trips could be negotiated. Additionally, the legislation anticipates eliminating one round trip from Big Lake per day, although that idea would be subject to negotiation. With the dropped trip and added service to St. Cloud, the total train miles per week would remain almost the same, meaning there wouldn't be any additional cost to expand the line, Knoblach said. The state could potentially save money as a result of additional fares in St. Cloud, he added.The bill would prohibit the state from spending more to operate the line than is currently budgeted. However, the proposal does allow local governments to spend funds on the project if they want to develop the area around the St. Cloud Amtrak station.Knoblach has already had discussions with BNSF officials, who "do not oppose the bill," he said. Sen. John Pederson (R-St. Cloud) is carrying a companion bill in Minnesota's Senate.