Report identifies high-speed rail corridors with greatest ridership potential

Posted on January 11, 2011

[IMAGE]U-S-HSR-corridor-map-2.jpg[/IMAGE]High-speed rail corridors connecting populous regions with large job centers, rail transit networks, and existing air markets were found to have the greatest potential to attract ridership, according to a new study.

The study, released Tuesday by America 2050, identifies the high-speed rail corridors with the greatest potential to attract ridership in each of the nation's "megaregions" — networks of metropolitan regions that collectively contain more than 70 percent of U.S. population and jobs.

Corridors connecting populous regions with large job centers, rail transit networks, and existing air markets scored best. The study also recommends that the federal government adopt a quantitative approach to evaluating future investment in high-speed rail.


The 56-page study, entitled "High-Speed Rail in America," cites ridership potential as the number one factor in determining if a corridor is suitable for investment, identifies the specific conditions that generate ridership demand and scores each corridor according to strength in those areas.

The top performing corridors in each region determined to have the greatest potential demand for high-speed rail ridership include corridors, such as:

  • New York-Washington, D.C.;
  • Chicago-Milwaukee;
  • Tampa, Fla. (via Orlando) to Miami;
  • Dallas-Houston;
  • Atlanta-Birmingham, Ala.;
  • Portland, Ore.- Seattle;
  • and Denver-Pueblo, N.M.

Scoring was based on factors that have contributed to rail ridership in other systems around the world: regional and city population size and density, employment concentrations, rail transit accessibility, air travel markets, and the composition of job markets by sector.

Based on the analysis, the report proposes that the federal government adopt a similar approach to evaluating where to invest future dollars and calls for prioritizing investments where the potential for ridership demand is greatest.

It also calls for a new nationwide study of long-distance travel in America, the majority of which takes place by auto. The last nationwide study of this kind — the American Travel Survey — was completed in 1995 and is outdated, according to the report.

The report only examined corridors of up to 600 miles in length — the range of miles at which high-speed rail can compete effectively with automobiles and airplanes — and collected data for every metropolitan region along each corridor. The scoring methodology was designed so that corridors with large central business districts, regional populations, existing transit systems, and regional air markets scored highest in the study.

Short corridors that concentrate multiple major cities and employment centers tended to score highly in the study.

The report is a follow-up study to America 2050's 2009 report, "Where High-Speed Rail Works Best," which analyzed 27,000 potential corridors or "city pairs" and ranked them according to a weighted average of the six survey criteria, but did not consider the alignment of the corridors or the cities in between each pairing. "High-Speed Rail in America" refines this analysis by accounting for the network benefits of having multiple stations along a corridor.

To view the full report, click here.


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