ST. CLOUD -- Dozens of central Minnesotans testified before the Minnesota House Transportation Committee about the need for -- and benefits of -- extending the Northstar Commuter Rail to St. Cloud.

Currently, a bill is working its way through the house on the extension topic.

The bi-partisan bill was co-authored by DFL Representative Dan Wolgamott and Republican Tama Theis of St. Cloud. The proposal includes a comprehensive study as well as $7.3 million in state money. The bill hopes to jumpstart a project that was first proposed around a decade ago.

Following the bill presentation, over thirty community members gave personal testimony. Brendan Klein is a senior at St. John’s University and the student body vice president. He says the expansion would benefit the diverse student populations of area colleges.

We have a sizeable student population that is from greater Minnesota, that is from other states within the United States, and international students as well. A lot of them have a lot of challenges trying to find transportation to and from the Twin Cities and out of the Minneapolis airport.

Klein gathered feedback from over 500 students and testimonies from over 200. He says these students would all use the train more frequently if it were extended.

For some it was just purely economic. You can save gas or spending hundreds of dollars to say to use Executive Express, and use the Northstar that would be feasible. For others it was safety concerns. Driving, especially in wintry conditions, can be dangerous not only for those who are driving, but for the families that they are trying to get to. That causes a lot of anxiety and concern, and then the last part is that it is eco-friendly.

Other supporters of the Northstar expansion bill mentioned access to healthcare, commuting to and from work, safety, age, cost, and carbon footprint among their reasons. Many also stated St. Cloud has many major transportation veins, including Interstate 94, Highway 10, and Highway 23, and that the rail line would reduce congestion and wear and tear on those roads.

Criticisms of the bill from members of the Transportation Committee included concerns that ridership numbers need to be updated and the fact that several other small communities between St. Cloud and Camp Ripley were requesting stops of their own.

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