High-Speed Rail in America

A new study released today by America 2050 identifies the high-speed rail corridors with the greatest potential to attract ridership in each of the nation's megaregions.  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.

Download the Press Release.

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, DC; Chicago-Milwaukee; Los Angeles-San Diego; Tampa (via Orlando) to Miami; Dallas-Houston; Atlanta-Birmingham; Portland-Seattle; and Denver-Pueblo. 

Download the report after the break.

High Speed Rail in America

Complete Report (31 MB)

Errata, issued Jan. 14, 2011 (104 K) (Report has been corrected in version posted above and below.)

Individual Sections
Executive Summary ;(3 MB)
Chapter 1 - Ridership: The Key to Success (500K)
Chapter 2 - Regional Profiles of Rail Corridors (28.5 MB)
Appendix (60K)

Individual Megaregion Profiles
Northeast (5.6 MB)
Great Lakes (6.3 MB)
California and Southwest (5.6 MB)
Florida (4.8 MB)
Texas and the Gulf Coast (6 MB)
Piedmont (5.3 MB)
Cascadia (5.7 MB)
Front Range and Intermountain West (4.3 MB)

High resolution versions of the maps in this report can be downloaded on the America 2050 Maps page. (Scroll down to the bottom.)


I'm wondering why the new link between Raleigh and Richmond as proposed by the Southeast High Speed Rail Tier II DEIS (www.sehsr.org) is nowhere on this map. The existing circuitous connection between Raleigh and Richmond gets a dark red line on the overall map, suggesting a promising corridor, but the report seems to concentrate on travel within megaregions and ignore potential connections between megaregions. SEHSR represents a logical extension south of the northeast corridor, and it would be nice to see it listed among the corridors.

Seattle Employment Numbers

I would appreciate it if you would check the employment information for Seattle. The ratio of employment(2.68 million) to population (2.64 million)within the 25-mile ring appears to be very high compared to almost all the cities. I assume that this would include most of metro Seattle. The employment of 400,000 within 2 miles of the rail station also appears very high. Could this be a home-office bias?

small quibble on an otherwise well researched product. You discuss New Orleans's transit service (i.e. streetcar network) but it did NOT appear to receive any score for Transit Connectivity Employment or Transit Connectivity Population as it did not show up on Table 39: Transit Accessibility and Ridership by Region (should be around 90,000 people and 90,000 jobs)- wondering how, if true, it would affect scores.

To that end, it might be a very interesting and useful tool where people could play with certain scoring criteria their communities COULD affect (such as Transit accessibility or even CBD employment) and see how those changes increase or decrease their corridor scores. Additionally, as the previous commenter posted, play with different corridor alignments (for my part, New Orleans-Baton Rouge-Lafayette-Houston). Thanks!

The FRA issued a report about 1997 ranking the SESHR Corridor (Charlotte-Raleigh-Washington) as having the best potential of the then identified federal HSR corridors in terms of ROI. I realize that this is now 13 years ago but I find it hard to believe, especially given current census findings, that this corridor has slipped completely off the map (so to speak).

I can certainly understand and appreciate such city pairs as Seattle-Portland and San Diego-LA as they already have exciting programs in place. However, Birmingham-Atlanta is a real question mark and if you have ever wandered along between the two on the Amtrak Crescent you will understand my concern. There is no activity on this proposed corridor (ask the NS) while NC and VA have been working on theirs going on two decades with relatively significant amounts of state and (now) federal investment.

When one examines the scoring criterion (population, job centers, transit, etc.) there is one glaring, and telling, omission -- demonstrated commitment by the states concerned. If you followed the jockeying around for ARRA HSR funding you will understand why there is not going to be HSR between Birmingham and Atlanta anytime soon. And as far as "future" HSR into Atlanta the study would have done better to focus on Atlanta to Spartanburg/Greenville (because Charlotte is just up the road).

Please have your researchers check the employment numbers for Seattle, especiallly within the 25-mile radius. The ratio of jobs to population in what encompasses most of Seattle metro appears very high - greater than one job per resident - compared to the other metropolitan areas. Also, I don't know, but I suspect the 440,000 jobs within 2 miles of the station is overstated.

I am curious why linking Boise to the rest of Cascadia doesn't come out with a higher score. It seems that Boise is a big enough metro area with limited highway connections and not a major connecting airport so the rail corridor could easily convince people to use HSR.

And once again, SW Oregon is ignored in the conversation about HSR. We may not have the population base of the Willamette Valley but there are a lot of people here. Right now if I wanted to take Amtrak north or south I have to take a bus to Klamath Falls then wait and wait, then hop on a train. It would take me 12+ hours to get to Portland by train when I can drive there in 4.5 hours. What option do you think I take?

The Seattle employment numbers are surprising, but they are consistently high across 2 miles, 10 miles, and 25 miles, suggesting either that the results are valid or that it's an error in the underlying data collection rather than in the reporting. They do suggest that Seattle has more jobs within 25 miles than Portland and Vancouver BC together, which is hard to believe but not entirely out of the realm of possibility. Where's the source data so that we can double-check? If these numbers are true the implications for HSR and transit planning in general are pretty dramatic.

The 10-mile employment density numbers for Washington DC and Boston are just wrong, with fewer jobs within 10 miles than within 2. I suspect a leading 1 (representing a million additional jobs within 10 miles) is missing for each city. I think I noticed some other similar errors when I looked at this earlier so it's probably worth another editorial pass.

Ah, I remember another error that I found. In the Great Lakes summary Chicago is stated to have the second-densest business district but the listed data show San Fransisco at #2 with over 800,000 jobs within 2 miles.

One reason the 440,000 and 810,000 figures for Seattle and San Francisco seem plausible is that both cities are geographically constrained as virtual or actual peninsulas (central Seattle is an isthmus made into a peninsula by the Lake Washington Ship Canal.) So jobs near downtown have to either be within a couple of miles.

It's the number of jobs within 25 miles that seems a little suspect for the reasons already stated. But the Puget Sound/Cascadia region is notable for having a distributed urban density rather than a single enormous central city, even though Seattle still dominates. And you can get a positive 25-mile job-to-population ratio because of exurban development (with more people living outside of 25 miles than are working within the 25 mile zone, by a couple of percent.) Seattle's metro area has exactly that pattern of development.

Also, I googled county statistics for employment-population ratios and King County is at 76%. That includes the rural eastern parts of the county that are more than 25 miles away from Seattle, suggesting that a 102% ratio within 25 miles is possible, particularly when the 25-mile radius includes other dense areas outside of the county such as SW Snohomish County, the northern outskirts of Pierce County, and the Bremerton area across Puget Sound.

Still, the clear typos in other parts of this doc do lead me to question how carefully it was prepared.

One more thing that suggests to me that the Seattle numbers are accurate (and the more I think about it the more I think they are accurate, despite being so surprising):

The 25-mile zone excludes not only most of the exurban population but also most of the Tacoma area. Tens of thousands of people--probably even low six figures, live near Tacoma outside of Seattle's 25-mile zone but work within it, often downtown (within 2 miles) or on the Eastside (within 10).

Richard, Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Indeed, the Seattle job numbers are incorrect, due to a miscalculation during the GIS analysis. We have amended the Seattle jobs numbers, which should be: 220,000 at the 2-mile ring; 700,000 at the 10-mile ring; and 1,480,000 at the 25-mile ring.

Since the jobs data is used to calculate the corridor score, it also impacted the scoring for corridors that included Seattle. We recalculated the scores for Seattle-Portland (17.37); Eugene-Bellingham (13.71); and Seattle-Spokane (10.00).

These updates were posted in a summary of errata, above, and will be updated in the report online shortly.

This report is rubbish. New Orleans - Jacksonville was a demonstrated, functional corridor. Then Katrina hit, and Amtrak used it as an excuse to eliminate service between the cities. The present Amtrak "solution" is to go to Chicago or Washington DC to get between those two cities. That corridor doesn't rate High Speed Rail. But, there is not the alternative of low speed rail available. San Francisco - San Jose has Caltrain, Sacramento - Oakland has the Capital Corridor. HSR isn't going to increase train usage between these short hops, which have good connectivity already. The report needs to recognize that low speed rail has it's place (California is going to start the build of it's HSR with a non-functional link between Bakersfield and Merced. It's not the end of the world, but you can see it from there.)

The tables for population and employment for the mountain west mega region include Omaha. I'm assuming this was supposed to be Albuquerque which was missing from the tables. The reason I'm not totally sure this is the case though is the article states that Albuquerque has projected growth rates over 60%, but the table shows growth rates of 'Omaha' at well below these rates. Still, since Omaha is considerably east of this region and Albuquerque is missing from these tables, I still assume the names were switched in the tables.

Regarding the Texas & the Gulf Coast portion of the report:

- Austin has a light rail system.

- The methodology for evaluating the regional air market doesn't appear to take into account that DFW and Houston are air hubs with many of the travelers making connections to other cities across the country and the globe.

- The methodology doesn't appear to include an analysis of highway trips between the cities, a major portion of the trips likely to be attracted by HSR.

- It seems odd that you didn't include Baton Rouge in your analysis.

"Sacramento - Oakland has the Capital Corridor. HSR isn't going to increase train usage between these short hops, which have good connectivity already"

Not really, check the timetables. Leaving Sacramento at 620 gets you to Oakland at 820 -TWO HOURS. It can be driven in an hour and a half.

Meanwhile, in slow-by-europe-standards, GNER trains from Edinburgh to Newcastle cover a somewhat longer distance in 1:30.

These are diesel traction units with a designed top speed of 148mph but only operate at 125mph max because the UK doesn't have advanced signaling.

If I were in charge in California, I'd start with the Central Valley-Bay Area routes. Upgrade existing track to dual-use triple-track w/ steel sleepers, 150 MPH speeds, diesel traction.

Relatively cheap, fast to build, gets people seeing the benefits much sooner and wanting to go faster still.

I would not start by spending billions to construct a system in the boonies that will not see passengers for years and years and years.

Please. Austin has one small, failed, quasi-commuter line connecting some suburbs with very low density and very little opportunity (or desire) for transit oriented development, with a station sort-of-downtown but not exactly close or convenient to any of the main generators of trips. It's such a failure that points should be *deducted* from Austin's score because of it.

Austin earlier defeated a real light rail system by something like 51-49. The city where I was born will regret that vote forever. Forever.

In order to analyze the demand for HSR properly certain questions must be answered -- what is the objective of HSR? How can it be made competitive economically and thus, financially?

Northeast Corridor HSR advocates view it as a short point to point effort, eliminating highway traffic with high demand, transference from road, rail and commuter air traffic. At present, ACELA is not even true high speed rail and can not meet the requirements of 200 mph speed without huge capital investment. Sufficient additional demand is not there to justify that investment.

Similarly, proposals for Florida and for the west coast fail the demand test. HSR is justifiable only as an economic tool resulting in development and the creation of wealth.

To be economically effective HSR must deliver over similar distances competitive elapsed time between terminals where high demand exists.

The necessary parameter for 200 mph HSR is two hours and 400 miles. The competition for HSR is not motor vehicle traffic. It is short haul air traffic, which is most expensive because of high fuel consumption at take off.

HSR can not compete with cross country aviation. The capital cost to build 2000 miles of HSR is prohibitive. The Chinese plan to build HSR to go from Beijing to Moscow. The PRC may have cheap labor and the surplus capital resources, but it is clearly a money loser for a private investor.

What is feasible for HSR in America? Its the interconnection of Midwest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA). Most feasible is a Chicago hub and spokes around the geographic clock extending -- city center to city center -- up to 400 miles, the two hour limit. Milwaukee would be the shortest leg. Terminals in Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Cincinnati and Louisville, St. Louis, Des Moines, Minneapolis complete the circle.

What is the financial model? There are huge capital costs in building a two track line with no level grade crossings . In addition there are the capital costs of signalization and movement control equipment plus the costs of the terminals themselves. Railroad operating costs include the maintenance of track and fixed equipment. Finally we have the cost of rolling stock, both capital and operating costs.

How can these be properly funded?
The Federal government built the interstate highway system. So also should the Federal government purchase the right of way and construct the trackage on which the rolling stock will move.
The states through which HSR passes must buy into the program. A multi-state public corporation should be established with funding resources sufficient to pay for the construction and maintenance of signalization and movement control equipment and the personnel costs associated with operating the system.

Each city purporting to be a terminal would use the site for economic as well as transportation development. The best example of a proper terminal is the Chicago Northwestern terminal at Madison and Canal. Not only does it receive and send trains, it also includes a multi-story office complex above. Should intermediate cities between the two end points desire service, it would be up to them to fund the trackage and provide for the thermals necessary to reach the through lines.

The final piece of the puzzle -- the capital and operating costs of the rolling stock – are best funded by the risk taking part of our economy, private enterprise.

The airport/airline model is ideal. Competing corporations should bid for 'slots' -- departure and arrival time at the ending terminals. Let private enterprise buy (or lease) the rolling stock to match the speed parameters above within designated departure and arrival times. Slots should permit departures at ten minute intervals for trains of a certain passenger capacity. The cost of rolling stock is spread to many owners. The system managers could accept the highest bid for each slot. Absent demand it makes no sense to construct an HSR system

It is clear that, as with the airlines, certain slots are more valuable than others and will command a higher price.

There is presently a demand for air freight traffic on overnight flights. Here too, HSR can support what used to be called high speed freight. Private enterprise -- the FedEx, the UPS and the rest will increase the number of slots which could be sold.

There are ancillary benefits in having industrial companies put back to work, additional labor required first to construct and then to maintain.

The use of the private sector first to show true demand and then to own and operate the rolling stock is necessary for HSR systems to be a success. As necessary is the level of demand in the high population MSA in which are located the terminals. Intermediate stops between terminal cities -- a branch line to a city, a terminal and a line returning to the main line -- might be accommodated. It would be up to the benefiting City “pay to play.”.

This is the vision of HSR which is supportable -- basic costs paid by public entities, risk capital from the private sector to complete the picture. The public sector should never speculate on possible demand.

The economic stimulus caused by the proper infusion of money at the Federal, State and local levels and the participation of private enterprise make this the ideal 21st century public-private project.

There is a lot of good information here, but do you folks even realize that Nashville, Tennessee exists? It's not on your map, although Bowling Green, Kentucky, a city of 55,000 is. In other studies of the Piedmont region, Nashville comes in as the third largest MSA, just slightly behind Charlotte. Surely a 1.5 million metro area with NFL and NHL teams would merit a listing, even if you don't like country music.

Your air flight graphics also totally omit Nashville, and they locate Memphis about where Paducah, Kentucky, is. As other posters have mentioned, much of this is good, but the errors are critically distracting.

400 mile limit?! it was at 500 miles pre 9-11 and now, 700 mile and higher TRUE HSR lines are being built!