Building a Hinckley rail station at Grand Casino could add another $34 million to the cost of a proposed passenger line from Minneapolis to Duluth. But it's a gamble rail officials prefer to take as they court the Mille Lacs tribe as a potential financial partner.

Bob Manzoline, chairman of the Minneapolis-Duluth/Superior Passenger Rail Alliance, is scheduled to meet today at the casino with representatives of the Mille Lacs band of Ojibwe -- and the primary topic is expected to be building a station at the casino, said Manzoline and Tadd Johnson, the tribe's special counsel and director of its government affairs office.

The tribe is doing an internal study of the proposed line "to see what's best for the region," Johnson said. He added, "We also want to see what makes sense for the tribe."

Trains running at speeds of 110 miles per hour, making six round trips from Minneapolis to Duluth plus three additional trips between Minneapolis and Hinckley, makes the most financial sense for the 150-mile line, according to a feasibility study released in January. But placing a Hinckley station at Grand Casino, which involves new track that strays from an established route, would push the cost of the line from a projected $360 million to $394 million -- and that does not include the costs of building the stations along the line.

But Grand Casino has become one of the engines driving this passenger line.

Alex Metcalf, president of Transportation Economics & Management Systems (TEMS), the Frederick, Md., firm that completed the yearlong feasibility study of the line, noted that the casino attracts 4 million customers a year and that Hinckley, a city of approximately 1,600, should be treated "as if it had a half-million to a million people."

Proposed station locations include downtown Minneapolis, Coon Rapids, Cambridge, Hinckley, Superior, Duluth and possibly Sandstone.

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419