High-Speed Rail

A Future Interstate Rail Network – Redux

This is the second, revised, piece on a national rail network. The first is here.


After quite a response to The Transport Politic’s original post on envisioning a new intercity rail network, I’d like to offer up some revisions to the proposal. Most of the alterations have been made to the high-speed network, though there were some minor changes to the standard-speed network as well. In this post, I’ve also delved a bit deeper into how such a rail network could be implemented, described how the routes were chosen and judged, and listed other routes that were considered and rejected because of poor cost-effectiveness.

Proposed North American Intercity Rail Network

Proposed National Rail Route Network – Standard and HSR Routes

High Speed Rail Network Phasing

HSR Route Network – Phasing

High Speed Rail Network Routes

HSR Route Network – Corridors

Implementing the National Intercity Rail Network

The method by which the United States currently funds intercity railroad lines is skewed towards state and region-centric projects without consideration for how the national rail network works as a whole. For instance, states like North Carolina and Michigan pay Amtrak to subsidize routes in their states, and the result is that both states have somewhat better service than many states that don’t spend to join the national system. The problem, however, is that travel on railways is not confined to states – passengers from North Carolina may want to get to Atlanta, but if South Carolina and Georgia don’t put up the funds to participate, passengers in North Carolina lose out. Similarly, the state of Michigan may improve its tracks, but if Illinois and Indiana don’t do the same, passengers traveling from Detroit to Chicago won’t benefit as much as they could.

It is for this reason that a railway system must be planned, financed, and built at the national scale. Our existing dysfunctional national policy suggests that states will be able to coordinate their decision-making, but considering the lack of high-speed rail development since 1991, when federal policy first addressed the issue, I can’t help but be skeptical. The federal government must use an empirical system such as the one presented here to prioritize corridors throughout the nation – without considering state borders – and then designate funds to sponsor them. Relying on states to plan the systems and then provide the majority of funds is simply unrealistic.

the transport politic’s suggestion is that the most appropriate way to get the ball rolling is to separate train operations – Amtrak – from track possession and maintenance by setting up a national infrastructure owner – let’s call it NatTrack. This agency would take hold of the Amtrak-owned Northeast Corridor and begin acquiring and assembling land for future high-speed rail corridors. Through eminent domain, it would also take possession of a large number of the nation’s freight lines, most of which are currently under-maintained and poorly managed, and begin converting them to standard-speed rail operations. NatTrack would manage route creation, not only in buying land and constructing track, but in prioritizing corridors to build new lines, deciding which to implement, and when. Our suggestion for such an implementation order is presented in the table below.

NatTrack would pay for tracks through grants and bonds – similar to the financial model being proposed for the California High-Speed Rail project. The federal government would contribute 50 to 90% of each project’s cost in grants (it currently pays for 80 to 90% of the nation’s roadways). Since the rail system is an interstate one and its creation would provide numerous economic benefits, such as transit-oriented development and decreased travel times, this seems appropriate. The rest of each project’s cost would come from debt-financed bonds released by the private market but backed by Washington. Considering the profitability of high-speed rail lines in countries all over the world (as well as that of the Northeast Corridor), it seems reasonable to suggest that service along American HSR lines would be profitable enough to cover operating costs and some of the debt from the original construction. Upgrades to standard-speed corridors, which would likely not be as profitable, could be sponsored with 80-90% grants from the federal government and from small (10-20%) contributions from affected states.

The creation of NatTrack need not mean the privatization of Amtrak, which would continue to operate the nation’s intercity train service. In fact, in France, for instance, rails are owned by the RFF and trains are run by the SNCF; both organizations are nationalized. We’ve made the argument in the past that national ownership of both tracks and train operation makes sense. Amtrak’s role would be to buy trains and run them; it would pay NatTrack to run trains along the tracks, and NatTrack would use that revenue to pay for maintenance costs along those corridors as well as to pay for debt service on corridor construction.

Existing intercity rail lines and freight lines would be slowly converted to the standard-speed operation (70-120 mph) that we present in the maps above. These corridors would also be absorbed by NatTrack, which, after double-tracking and potentially electrifying them, would then lease back operation rights to both freight services and Amtrak. Allowing freight companies to own the tracks makes little sense and has resulted in Amtrak being treated as the secondary operator; a national owner would weigh the needs of both passenger and freight operations and be fairer and more efficient in scheduling trains.

High-speed rail lines would not be shared with freight trains, but the right-of-way could be shared. In other words, if the corridor were wide enough, NatTrack could allow for the operation of freight trains along parallel tracks.

The fundamental jump that the U.S. government must take is the creation of an organization such as NatTrack. Public ownership of our railways and federal government leadership in the creation of new corridors are rational first steps towards a unified national system that provides competitive and valuable train service throughout the country.

Western High Speed Rail Network


Midwest High Speed Rail Network


Northeast High Speed Rail Network


Texas High Speed Rail Network


Southeast High Speed Rail Network


How Routes Were Chosen and Judged

the transport politic’s proposal was informed by an analysis of potential travel between metro regions of populations greater than 100,000 and between 50 and 500 miles apart. The system proposed here would represent a massive change from the service provided by Amtrak today. It would emphasize train travel that’s competitive with airlines in time, rather than the day or days-long travel that is the hallmark of Amtrak today. The vast majority of train travel would occur on trains running at 150 mph or above on routes of 500 miles or less. Roads and airports along these corridors would be significantly decongested as more people choose to take the train instead of a car for short to medium distances (50-200 miles) and the train instead of the airplane for long distance (300-500 miles) travel.

There is no transcontinental high-speed railroad proposed here because high-speed rail simply doesn’t attract particularly high ridership above the 500 mile travel distance; the best way to get from the East Coast to the West Coast will – and should, barring some unforeseen technological advance – remain via airplane.

Though we’ve separated the routes described here into a set of named corridors, users, being able to travel from one to another seamlessly, wouldn’t necessarily perceive where one corridor ends and another begins. Train operations would be scheduled by Amtrak depending on ridership; the corridor scores in the table below provide a basic estimate for travel demand along each of the lines.

Some standard-speed corridors would act as extensions of the high-speed services and allow for trains to run on both types of track; this would allow people living in an area without direct access to high-speed lines to still be able to travel on high-speed trains to other destinations. Other standard-speed corridors with lower ridership would operate with their own train sets and require passengers to transfer at high-speed stations to get onto high-speed lines.

The system does not emphasize airport connections, because the high-speed system is meant to serve as an economic generator for the nation’s inner cities, as well as provide for regional inter-connectivity. Cities and states would have an incentive to prop up their local transit systems if there were a well-used rail hub at the center of each metropolitan area. There could be some service to airports, of course, especially to those that happen to be well positioned along the rail lines, such as SFO, Newark, BWI, and DFW. But most airports should be connected to city centers via local transit and commuter rail.

In order to calculate the cost effectiveness of each route on the high-speed system, the transport politic used a relatively simple methodology based on travel between city pairs 50 to 500 miles apart. The calculations assume the following: that a big city to big city route attracts more passengers than a small city to small city route; that a big city to small city route attracts more passengers than a small city to small city route; that as distances increase, ridership decreases, though not proportionately. I recognize that these assumptions may be incorrect in many cases, but they provide a reasonable start for further research on this subject.

These calculations do not take into account regional economic integration nor current air or road corridor travel – adding this information to the metric in the future would be a useful improvement. The assumption that as distances increase, ridership decreases is based on the obvious truth that there is simply more overall travel between cities that are close to one another than cities that are far apart. A commenter suggested that in fact high-speed rail market share increases as distance increases – this is true, because people are less likely to drive as a journey’s distance increases. However, the overall travel market does decrease as the distance increases, meaning that even with a higher market share, there will be fewer high-speed rail journeys. The metric recognizes that.

But I recognize that the proposal presented here is no magic bullet, and the calculations used to support it are certainly not exhaustive.

That said, this is simply the beginning of what should be a years-long process to establish a national track owner, to plan a series of national rail corridors, to build them, and, finally, to operate them. Starting with a big vision, just as we did with the Interstate highways system fifty years ago, is an important first step.

Alterations in the High-Speed Rail Network from the First Proposal

  • The Crescent Route would now run from Birmingham south to Montgomery and Pensacola, then west to New Orleans, before continuing on to Houston. This change would, according to our calculations, increase travel about two-fold by serving the Gulf Coast’s relatively populated areas.
  • The SouthEastern Route would now end in Macon, rather than continuing on to Jacksonville – the route from Macon to Savannah was extremely low-performing. A new route, however, from Charlotte through Columbia, Charleston, and Savannah to Jacksonville, would be better-performing and improve access to South Carolina’s biggest cities.
  • The Texas CrossState Route, which was rightfully criticized before, has been reconsidered along the lines of the Texas T-Bone proposal, with a line from Dallas directly to San Antonio and another from Temple to Houston. This would be more cost effective per mile and decrease travel times for more routes.
  • A Norfolk Connection is added, providing service from Norfolk/Virginia Beach to Richmond, a potentially very high travel market.
  • The Colorado CrossState Route is also added, thanks to a commenter’s suggestion; this route would perform relatively poorly overall, but better than other routes in the system, so I’ve included it.
  • The CrossCanada Lines were changed slightly – Toronto has been added to CC1 and Hamilton removed from CC2; this improves the performance of the CC1 line and Toronto serves as a more logical terminus than relatively small Hamilton;
  • I’ve also included two possible connections to Mexico: south from San Diego to Tijuana and south from San Antonio, through Corpus Christi, Brownsville, and McAllen, to Monterrey. These would make sense in the future if and when U.S./Mexico border relations improve significantly.

Total high-speed rail system mileage increased to 10,669 miles. (New rankings, based on the changes presented above, are at the bottom of the post.)

Other Routes Evaluated and Rejected

Alternative routings for high-speed rail were considered, but rejected because of lower scores than the final routes chosen:

  • LA-Phoenix-Tucson scored higher than the rejected LA-Flagstaff-Prescott-Phoenix;
  • Extensions of the Colorado CrossState proposal south from Pueblo scored too low to be included; a connection from Santa Fe to El Paso via Albuquerque also scored too low;
  • An extension of the NorthWestern south from Porland to Eugene is not cost-effective;
  • Connections from Vancouver east to Calgary and from Calgary north to Edmonton scored too low to be included;
  • The Lakes 2 routing from Chicago to Cleveland was chosen over a routing through Michigan (Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, etc); the former had a higher Overall Score;
  • A route from Oklahoma City to Kansas City through Wichita scored lower than the route through Tulsa presented here;
  • The original alignment through Texas, from Dallas to Austin to Houston, was rejected in favor of the T-Bone Corridor shown here;
  • The original Crescent 4 and 5 alignments, from Birmingham to Dallas, via Jackson, and with a spur to New Orleans, scored significantly lower than the new alignment from Birmingham south to Mobile and then west to New Orleans and Houston;
  • A shorter line directly from Raleigh to Charlotte in North Carolina was rejected in favor of the more populated routing through Durham, Burlington, and Greensboro;
  • Various routings from Knoxville to Little Rock, via Nashville and Memphis, scored too low to be included;
  • A routing from St. Louis south to New Orleans through Memphis and Jackson scored too low to be included;
  • The Macon-Savannah-Jacksonville alignment scored considerably lower than the Charlotte-Columbia-Charleston-Savannah-Jacksonville alignment presented here.

Phase 1 Corridors – 2,724 miles
Route Order Mileage Corridor Score Overall Score
NEC / Boston-NYC-Philadelphia-DC 1 454 2,486 3,535
California CrossState 1 / San Francisco-Fresno-LA 2 500 516 1,091
CrossCanada 1 / Detroit-Hamilton-Toronto 3 239 745 2,163
New York CrossState 1/ NYC-Albany 4 141 781 3,619
NorthEastern / Boston-Albany-Buffalo-Hamilton 5 499 829 2,119
Lakes 1 / Detroit-Toledo 6 57 454 3,136
MidWestern 1 / Cincinnati-Columbus-Akron 7 258 553 1,800
Crescent 1 / DC-Richmond-Raleigh-Charlotte 8 409 556 1,496
California CrossState 2 / LA-San Diego 9 167 1,408 1,877
Phase 2 Corridors – 2,466 miles
Route Order Mileage Corridor Score Overall Score
Lakes 2 / Chicago-Ft. Wayne-Toledo-Cleveland 10 371 477 1,879
MidWestern 2 / Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati-Louisville 11 350 557 1,456
Florida CrossState / Jacksonville-Orlando-Tampa-Miami 12 498 878 926
Texas CrossState / Dallas-Austin-San Antonio-Houston 13 476 660 797
California CrossState 3 / (Fresno)-Sacramento 14 120 636 1,342
Crescent 2 / Charlotte-Greenville-Atlanta 15 252 489 1,198
Keystone / Philadelphia-Harrisburg 16 98 198 1,488
NorthWestern / Portland-Seattle-Vancouver 17 301 564 564
Phase 3 Corridors – 2,534 miles
Route Order Mileage Corridor Score Overall Score
Lakes 3 / Harrisburg-Pittsburgh-Akron-Cleveland 18 357 396 1,277
CrossCanada 2 / Toronto-Ottawa-Montréal 19 392 281 607
MidWestern 3 / Chicago-Milwaukee-Minneapolis 20 438 429 655
Norfolk Connection / (Richmond)-Norfolk 21 75 256 926
Crescent 3 / Atlanta-Birmingham 22 142 268 754
New York CrossState 2 / Albany-Montréal 23 205 128 1,302
Crescent 4 / Houston-Baton Rouge-New Orleans 24 344 359 558
MidAmerican 1 / Chicago-Springfield-St. Louis 25 290 271 579
SouthEastern 1 / Louisville-Nashville-Chattanooga 26 291 217 701
Phase 4 Corridors – 2,945  miles
Route Order Mileage Corridor Score Overall Score
SouthEastern 2 /Chattanooga-Atlanta-Macon 27 193 233 686
Crescent 5 / Birmingham-Montgomery-Mobile-New Orleans 28 456 248 396
SouthEastern 3 / Charlotte-Columbia-Savannah-Jacksonville 29 458 198 431
Colorado CrossState / Ft. Collins-Denver-Pueblo 30 177 301 301
SouthWestern 1 / LA-Phoenix-Tucson 31 434 186 366
CrossCanada 3 / Montréal-Québec 32 168 161 338
MidAmerican 2 / Dallas-Oklahoma City 33 217 169 309
MidAmerican 3 / St. Louis-Kansas City-Tulsa-Oklahoma City 34 615 189 224
SouthWestern 2 / LA-Las Vegas 35 227 113 294

Note: the order presented above does not always correspond to the scores presented, notably in the case of California CrossState 1. That corridor is emphasized because it is further ahead in planning than any other of the nation’s high-speed lines. Other corridors are rearranged depending on the needs of the overall system. For instance, CrossCanada 1 is placed ahead of New York CrossState 1 because of the value it would bring to Midwest-to-Northeast travel.

High-speed lines to Mexico (from San Diego to Tijuana and from San Antonio to Monterrey via Corpus Christi, Brownsville, McAllen, and Juarez) are not calculated because of the currently tenuous border situation.

Computations taking into account the changes to the lines are here (PDF). An overview of how each line affects the other is here (PDF).

89 replies on “A Future Interstate Rail Network – Redux”

This proposal makes me want to go visit the future. The original was great, and this one is even better, especially since Texas is revamped and San Antonio included. (Poor old Beloit, my other town of interest, doesn’t merit a local connection between Rockford and Janesville. Alack alas.) So how do we go about forming a NatTrack?

I see you added a Binghampton to NYC route. I would imagine this would connect to Port Jervis and then follow the existing NJT/MNR commuter service. While that right of way clearly exists I think it would be a rather expensive route to upgrade. The Port Jervis to Hoboken route has the longest bridge and longest tunnel in the Metro-North railroad. Both are single tracks. While you could build a new bridge and dig a new tunnel, I would guess the Lackawanna cutoff which has the space for a double track would be a more cost effective route.

Do you have the numbers for how you decided on that route, or did you just opt for the slightly more direct route from Binghampton to NYC?

Avi, the main proposal for rail from NYC to Binghamton follows the Lackawanna Cutoff, where trains used to run at 100 mph. The main idea there is to connect NYC to Scranton, and from there possibly to Binghamton. It’s not the most direct route, but it’s the one that involves the least new construction.

Yonah, I still think some of the corridors are weird. For example, you give Cross-Canada extra value because of the possibilities for travel between the Midwest and Northeast, but in practice it’ll involve two border crossings. Also, your Florida line cuts through the Everglades, instead of going up the east coast to serve Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

Ultimately, the success of HSR is determined not exactly by distance, but by time. To be competitive with air, HSR needs to be slower by at most 1:30-2:00 hours. This represents the penalty air gets for requiring travel to and from the airport and check-in time. At cities with less convenient access to airports, like New York, the air penalty is higher. Conversely, at cities where the airport is as accessible as downtown and employment is diffuse, like Atlanta, the air penalty should be lower.

My comment in the other thread about the inappropriateness of MSA data isn’t about intra-MSA travel. It’s about microdestinations. Using MSA data to estimate demand represents macrodestinations: it talks about getting from the LA area to the SF area. As Jane Jacobs has noted, people don’t live in general areas, but in specific ones. So a better determinant of ridership is how well a line serves microdestinations, e.g. downtown Glendale to the Mission District. Air is spectacularly bad at serving microdestinations, but cars are very good: it takes about the same amount of time to get from Glendale to the Mission District as from Ventura to UC Berkeley. Even at its best, HSR can only shave a few percent off the car market; CAHSR projects itself to take at most 11% of the total market, compared with about 85%. As such, the ability of rail to take just one extra percentage point of the market from cars can make a huge difference.

Based on the microdestination issue, I think you need to look at some microdestinations – i.e. a neighborhood or two in the central city, plus a few suburbs in each direction – and how well HSR serves them. This will boost certain corridors, such as a Florida corridor as designated by the FRA, while hurting others, such as anything involving Atlanta, or your Detroit-through-Ohio corridor. It requires making choices about station placement, but at least on the lines near New York, Amtrak’s existing station placement is near-optimal.

Hello. Just a note to say that it’s apparent that a lot of time was spent on these maps. Some routes make a great deal of sense, but there are some gaps and ommissions that would prevent this from being a truly national system. Likewise, there are some curiosities that were included.

Let’s look at the midwest-east coast region. Here’s what’s missing:

A) There are no direct routes from Chicago to Des Moines, Omaha or Kansas City and there is no ability to move laterally in the Chicago/Kansas City/Omaha/Twin Cities quadrant. You can’t go from Kansas City to the Twin Cities for example.

Yet, there are some really marginal routes included, such as Sioux Fall-Rapid City, Green Bay-Minneapolis or Bloomington-Cedar Falls included on the map. I doubt these would perform very well and would not justify the cost of 110 mph standards.

B) Chicago Hub Routes: Missing are direct routes to Columbus, Louisville, Carbondale. Chicago-Detroit should be a higher level of service than what is shown. Again, direct routes to Omaha and Kansas City are missing.

C) Longer distance routes are missing or appear convoluted. A major route not on the map is Pittsburgh-Columbus-Dayton-Indanapolis-St. Louis. Another might be Cleveland-Indianapolis (direct or via Columbus)

D) What about the market between 500 and 1,000 miles? Rail could make a huge difference here too.

E) East of Chicago, some odd route combinations are called for, which will hard to justify. Pittsburgh-Parkersburg-Huntington is one example. This route has low on line population and can’t justify the 100 mph called for.

I could go on, and I don’t want to appear too critical, but I do see issues with the proposed route structure. Underlying that is another issue. Others (NARP, Ohio Hub, Midwest HSR initiative) have already gone thru this process and what is put forth here is a duplication to a degree. It seems to me there are alot of other things we could be doing to advance the cause.

Let me conclude by saying the best thing we could do is to make the current proposals reality. Then we can take the next steps.

If it was up to me, I’d call for three things:

a) General service levels as they existed in
1962, including long distance services. We need more than just high speed rail.
b) Overlay that with the MWHSRI and Ohio Hub (just looking at the Midwest-east coast area here), Empire Corridor and New York-Philadelphia-Pittsbugh
c) Fill in any gaps not covered above
d) Build a new high speed (150+) line New York-Philadelphia-Pittsburgh-Cleveland-Toledo-Chicago. Upgrade New York-Albany-Buffalo-Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Cincinnati to 125-150 mph

Run all the 110 mph corridors round the clock and have the trains go thru to off-corridor destinations.


I agree the Lackawanna cutoff makes the most sense. But the current map shows a direct route from Binghampton to NYC. The only way to run that connection that I see is to go Binghampton to Port Jervis, and then Port Jervis to NYC.

Technically the route via Port Jervis could be run now, but as I mentioned earlier, getting that route upgraded to support multiple trains at 80 mph running both ways would be very expensive. That’s why I think the Lackawanna cutoff is the better option.

Avi: nitpick…Binghamton has no ‘p’.

Agree with Buckeyeb on the lack of service between Chicago and Des Moines. There’s an already-existing Amtrak route – the California Zephyr (San Fran to Chicago via SLC, Denver, and Omaha) – which cuts across southern Iowa, and there have been proposals to realign this route further north to serve Des Moines.

One more thing, and I also mentioned this in the original thread: except for a short stretch between Duluth and Two Harbors, there has never been a rail line connecting Duluth, MN and Thunder Bay, ON. And due to the topography and relative lack of population along the Lake Superior North Shore, there likely never will be either. So I just don’t see that connection being a viable one.

Also a question to the blog owner: does your “methodology” PDF file reflect the changes you made in this revised HSR version?


I love that the maps keep getting updated with suggestions as they come. One final nitpick that I noticed. None of us that mentioned it made it clear, but the Lackawanna cutoff would connect to the NJT system around Newark to somewhere slightly west of it. It wouldn’t be a separate line into NYC.

Of course, if you are just charting transit usage then most likely people wouldn’t be getting off in Jersey.

All these points do show why a complete national plan may not be that realistic. While a planner in Washington can chart the major routes between the top 10 cities, local planners generally have a better idea at actual commuter patterns and where rights of way exist for the most efficient routes. For a true national grid there needs to be an overarching national plan, but when it comes to the nitty gritty there needs to be a lot of local input.

Thanks Avi – I’m really appreciating the suggestions – if I think they’re good and make sense, of course I don’t mind changing the maps. I inserted the data at the end of this post (for the changes). The standard-speed lines, reaching a lot of small locations, are not perfect, I admit.

I agree that making a complete national plan – especially for what I’ve termed standard-speed – would be difficult. However, if I had the time to run through the same calculations I used for the high-speed rail lines, it would be easier to do so, of course… but I’ve only been able to do that for HSR, which is why I feel more confident in them.

But the input on this has been great.

I agree the Lackawanna cutoff makes the most sense. But the current map shows a direct route from Binghampton to NYC. The only way to run that connection that I see is to go Binghampton to Port Jervis, and then Port Jervis to NYC.

A note on Virginia – several new passenger rail lines are already on the drawing boards that could be incorporated here:

A Richmond-Norfolk high-speed link will likely pass south of the James River, via Petersburg, Suffolk and Downtown Norfolk. Conventional rail service would remain between Richmond and Newport News showing two lines on your map between Richmond and Hampton Roads (yellow and orange).

The Trans-Dominion Express has been proposed from Bristol in SW Virginia to Richmond and Washington via Roanoke and Lynchburg. Bristol shares a metro area with Kingsport and Johnson City in Tennessee and a connection there could provide direct (albeit at conventional speed) service from Knoxville, Chattanooga and Nashville to Washington and the Northeast Corridor.

Florida: Wasn’t Florida’s orignal high-speed plan to go up the Atlantic Coast from Miami to reach Orlando (and then Tampa) from the East? This could provide synergies for travel north to Jacksonville and out of state.

Might suggest HSR north from Atlanta to Nashville, Louisville, Indianapolis and then direct to Chicago, with only conventional rail from Louisville to Cincinnati… could be more O&D traffic from this one hub in Chicago than all of Ohio.

Agree that while transcontinental HSR isn’t likely it shouldn’t be completely written off. The following article notes that while business travelers stick to shorter distances (3-4 hrs), leisuire travelers can be tempted to take longer trips on rail if the price (and other factors) are right:

Overall, impressive work! I like the high quality graphics and the connections to Canada and Mexico! Agree with another poster that the next step is what to do when you step off a train in the middle of Downtown Richmond (or Birmingham or Columbus or Albany or…) without a car.

I love the idea, but whoever created the Texas map has no clue where Juarez, Mexico is. Obviously not a Johnny Cash fan. :-)

Thanks, John – you’re right. Map updated. Turns out there are two Juarezs in Mexico, the smaller of which is adjacent to Monterrey… obviously, I don’t listen to Johnny Cash, but maybe I should.

Just wanted to let you know that on your Western U.S. map that Modesto, CA and Stockton, CA should be flipped. Stockton is north of Modesto.

Also, you seem to be missing Oakland on the map of Western U.S. That should be it.

…for now :D

I’ve sent you an email by the way.

Why should Minneapolis only have access to the southwest via Chicago? Minneapolis is the 12th largest metropolitan area and should be connected via rail directly to Kansas City, Denver, Omaha, and other southwestern cities without having to first travel to Chicago.

In the order of development of various corridors, Cincinnati – Columbus – Akron would never be built without continuing to Cleveland. This corridor, the “Three C’s” has been the dream of most pro-rail Ohioans for a long time. The Governor just expressed his support for it, two weeks ago. I think, as dreams meet reality, consideration must be given to those plans that states are most likely to get behind, even if they get behind demanding that the Federal Gov’t funds them alone.

I’d like to see the numbers on a high-speed Pittsburgh-DC line, either direct or in the form of a Harrisburg-Baltimore shortcut. Looking at the PDF, it seems that either one would be cost-justified, probably as a Phase 3 project.

Most of the options on here look great, and properly “phased.” The one thing that doesn’t make sense to me is the “Phase-I” priority for the high speed Boston-Albany leg. That seems like a fairly low priority for high speed; there are no major cities along the way and there is very little traffic demand between Boston and upstate or western New York. Today the Mass Pike is pretty empty west of Worcester. I would guess standard rail is basically sufficient in this corridor for a long time.

Can the Inland Route really be higher priority than, say, Chicago-Cleveland, the Texas routes, or Philly-Pittsburgh?

I must say well done on this map! This is exactly the kind of vision that is needed for the country. As a resident of Iowa I must put my 2 cents in. You have Iowa connected to Chicago via Rockford, IL. While a Rockford to Dubuque connection might be in the future, a much more likely route is Chicago to Davenport to Iowa City to Des Moines. The U of Iowa in Iowa City has a lot of students from the Chicago suburbs so this would be a popular route for most of the school year. I was wondering if your calculations took into account the transitional populations of college towns? For example, Iowa City’s population swells by about 30,000 when school is in session.

could you elaborate on why the corridor from st. louis to new orleans scores too low? st. louis to memphis to jackson to baton rouge to new orleans seems like it would score quite high, especially vis-a-vis a route that goes west from st. louis with almost no significant population centers between st. louis and dfw. plus, this ignores some of the recent federal high-speed rail corridors that include routing through new orleans’ significant rail infrastructure…

Akron/Canton certainly should be on the regular rail network, but including it on the HSR network seems to be reflect a misconception of the number of urban centers that fall within that urban area, which gives a false impression of the structure of the transport market.

The Ohio Hub does not, in fact, include Akron and Canton on the Cleveland / Columbus / Cincinnati trunk. Ideally, your system would not either.

Akron and Canton are a pair of cities, not a single urban center, and are strongly oriented to Cleveland as the dominant central place of the local area. By contrast Dayton, which in your modeling would appear to be a lesser central place, is in fact a single urban area and while it has a much smaller hinterland than Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, it in fact the dominant central place in its local area.

The triple C route should therefore run west of Akron and Canton, as Cleveland / Columbus / Dayton / Cincinnati, and a regular rail network route should be included that runs from essentially the “Northern Ohio” stop on the Ohio Hub (in the middle of nowhere) to Cleveland through Canton, CAK, Akron, Hopkins and Cleveland.

And of course having Akron and Toledo on your map, (both lower level central places than, say, Pittsburgh), and omitting the two largest metro areas in Ohio is setting yourself up for being made fun of … just in term of labeling, you have the two largest urbanized origins and destinations in Ohio omitted, although there is clearly room to include them.

That map is really interesting though two good routes are missing.

Boston MA to Montreal QC & Salt Lake City UT to Portland OR.


Boston to Montreal is on the map — it’s just via Albany, which only adds 75 miles, in exchange for (1) stopping in a large metro area which adds 850,000 people to the customer base, and (2) sharing track with the NY-to-Montreal route, which saves money.

Salt Lake to Portland is missing because it’s ridiculously long — even at 150 mph, it would take 5 hours, so you might as well just fly.

You also kinda have the “cutting the corner” via Vermont, which may or may not be faster than going through Albany.

Though speaking of that line, Yonah, there’s one problem with your map. Because of Lake Champlain, there’s no way to get a rail line (“standard speed or otherwise”) directly west of Burlington to meet your proposed high speed line along the “Northway”. You’d either have to cut north along the former railroad ROW that follows US Route 2, or do what’s already proposed and bring the line north of Burlington, along the east side of Lake Champlain, and directly to Montreal via St. Albans, VT.

I must vehemently disagree with BruceMcF and his assertion that Akron and Canton should be omitted from the HSR plans. I do concur Cleveland should be included in the initial plans linking Cincinnati with Cleveland, but I believe omitting Akron (which is more populous than Dayton) from that line would be a grave error(which the Ohio Hub plan is currently making). Geographically going through Akron makes sense, why go west of a city with over 200,000 people and a metropolitan area boasting over 600,000 people. Or avoid Canton with a separate metropolitan area of over 400,000 people.


How much do you estimate the HSR network would cost and how long do you think it would take to build?

Based on CA’s budget I would guess the whole system could cost ~$500 billion and take 30 years? The number sounds insane, but $17b/year would be doable if the federal government ever got behind it. Of course the danger of any 30 year project is future administrations derailing work midstream.

Well, let’s say CAHSR costs $50 billion for 800 miles (all three phases), that’s $63 million/mile. (Though of course California land prices are probably higher than almost everywhere else in the country.)

If the whole network is 10,669 miles, that would be $667 billion… which is obviously a hell of a lot.

But yes, if we’re talking about a 30-50 year timeline, this is surely a doable project, if (and only if) the federal government agrees to give HSR a solid, and continuous, funding source.

With a proposed L.A. to Phoenix line, at a disadvantage because of no major urban areas between Palm Springs and Phoenix, what would be the cost and ridership if the line was an L between L.A., San Diego, and Phoenix via Yuma?

It would still be less than 500 miles, but about 125 miles longer than a straight shot following I-10.

How many trains would run on the various Crescent segments? The Crescent, northbound out of Charlotte, arrives at 1:30 am. Not an opportune time to board a train to NYC. You would need 3-4 north bound and southbound trains (per day) to make this viable and competitive with autos and planes. Seems like the political problem with the stimulus will be to keep politicians from building a TGV/AVE/Bullet Train like system in their state or district, thereby sucking away too much funding. The thing to keep in mind is that TGV’s are the exception and most of Europe’s intercity network consists of 70-120 mph trains….

I’m sorry, but if you are talking about a North American Intercity Rail, then why have you not included parts of Mexico, such as; Monterrey, Hermosillo? These are not world cities but are greatly connected to the Southwest.

As a former resident of Wichita and great fan of rail travel, it disappoints me to see it off the HSR Corridor list, but I am not surprised. You have to be dedicated to use passenger rail from Wichita. The trains actually stop at Newton, about 35 miles north of Wichita and there is no public transportation from Wichita to Newton. There is one train per day and it arrives at about 4:00AM. How much commitment should rail travel take?

Hubman | 17 February 2009 at 03.13

I must vehemently disagree with BruceMcF and his assertion that Akron and Canton should be omitted from the HSR plans. I do concur Cleveland should be included in the initial plans linking Cincinnati with Cleveland, but I believe omitting Akron (which is more populous than Dayton) from that line would be a grave error(which the Ohio Hub plan is currently making). Geographically going through Akron makes sense, why go west of a city with over 200,000 people and a metropolitan area boasting over 600,000 people. Or avoid Canton with a separate metropolitan area of over 400,000 people.

The same “error” was made by the Interstate Highway system … with Akron and Canton aiming South by Southeast from Cleveland, while Columbus is Southwest of Cleveland, they ran I-77 down from Cleveland through Akron/Canton to West Virginia, and I-71 to Columbus.

But be clear on the two different classes of “HSR” … Yonah is sketching out a bullet train network, not a Rapid Rail network. For 220mph bullet train alignments, which require a new corridor in any event, the natural route system is not Cleveland / Akron / Canton / Columbus, but a Cleveland / Akron / Canton / and then a true HSR corridor that connects east toward New York City. Canton is, after all, only 387 miles from NYC line of site, so even a 75% efficient alignment would put it 516 miles away from NYC, less than 3 hours at an average trip speed of 200mph.

The reason for the Ohio Hub alignment is that is where current existing rail right of way happens to be that offers a direct alignment from Cleveland to Columbus. The whole triple-C corridor will cost $2b or less to get up and running, 110mph trains included, could break ground before the start of 2011, and be finished and ready to open by the end of 2012.

That’s an interesting point … if KC to Chicago is a bullet train line, then would Denver to KC at 110mph and on to Chicago at 220mph be faster than what looks like the straighter route via Iowa, but 110mph all the way?

A better HSR network would parallel interstate highway corridors. If there is enough traffic to justify building a four + lane, interchange access only road, then a HSR is equally justifiable.

There is no line running from Chicago to D.C., a big no-no. Just build a line from Chicago to Cleveland, Cleveland to Pittsburgh, and then have a line that follows I-76 and then I-70 to Baltimore and D.C.

Also, there must be a connection from Indy to Louisville. That is a no-brainer.

And the cost for a comprehensive system is not much- we have spent far more in Iraq and are spending $700 billion to bail out Wall Street.

Also there should be an I-70 line starting in Topeka and running all the way to Pittsburgh.

And an Indy-Detroit HSRL is a must- build it along I-69 to Fort Wayne and then along US 24 to Toledo and then I-75 to Motown.

Yonah super plan mate! Just one thing why is Portland to Sacramento only a 110 mph line? Wouldn’t it make more sense just to go all the way HSR?

Re Ohio Hub — Dayton, on a reginoal level, is larger than Akron, with more than 800,000 residents (900,000 if adjacent Springfield/Clark County is included, which it often is in metro stats)

I like your website and analysis. I definitely agree that high speed rail should be planned for at a national scale rather than a state one, though there should be considerable input from existing state and regional transportation policymakers.

I didn’t take a very hard look at your methodology for choosing and phasing routes but I would suggest looking into origin and destination data for air travel between some of these destinations, and also look at overall economic activity and economic and cultural relationships between MSAs. Two cities of the same size may not have the same level of economic activity or travel generation. Air travel may not be the only kind of data to look at but it would be interesting to factor in other kinds of impediments to travel between cities or generators of travel between cities than population and distance.

Nice work.

Hey real quick, I don’t have time to criticize the overall thing so I just wanted to comment on Florida (since that’s where I live).

The route you chose isn’t the best conceived. First of all, the two largest metropolitan areas in the state are Orlando and West Palm Beach-Miami. The route you’ve selected bypasses the shortest route between these metropolitan areas and bypasses the entire northern half of the WPB-Miami metro area. The route also goes from Tampa down the Southwest coast and crosses the Everglades. In addition to the obvious riot the enviromentalists will throw, the entire idea of building a high speed train in this area is ill-conceived. If you take a closer look at the geography, space for building a route is highly limited by development and bays and inlets that penetrate the coast, forcing major transportation ROWs (including highways, interstates, and the shortline RR) to make an awkward zigzag pattern far from the center of development. It’s far more trouble than it worth.

Ideally, it would be best to build the line from Orlando to Tampa via Auburndale and have a line from Miami and WPB come up north of Lake Okechobee and connect at Auburndale allowing for a 3-way connection between the metropolitan areas.

As for Jacksonville, I would hold off on that until I knew how development was going on the SouthEast HSR corridor.

Re Bryan,

If you include Canton which is closer to Akron (23 milies) than Dayton is to Springfield (29 Miles), the Akron-Canton (1.1 million people) area is still more populous than the Dayton-Springfield area.

If you think Toronto Detroit would happen before Montreal Toronto, you must not know anything about Canada.

I wish these maps were designed based on extrapolations from actual inter-city traffic flows.

Only one comment, other than an amazing project, we can only hope for a better future.

Given the #1 tourism spot in Florida is Disney World, and more than half the country comes to DW (from east of the Mississippi) would it not make more sense to run through Atlanta Directly to Orlando? Going around east and west for several hundred miles has to put a lot more burden on the long-term sustainability of a HSR sytem, given the maintenance costs of such a system.

On the map the New Haven/Springfield line is shown as conventional rail, this should be upgraded to HSR as well, just for the option of running HSR trains on both the Shore Line route and the Inland route much like the old New Haven Railroad did.

This way, Boston would have two routes to NYC, and Hartford could conceivably be only 3 or 4 stops away from NYC (Stamford, Bridgeport, New Haven, Meriden (maybe), and then Hartford).

Conceivably, a line could be built on the current Waterbury branch of Metro-North, accessed after Bridgeport through Waterbury and then on old rights of way to New Britain and through to Hartford, bypassing New Haven and perhaps saving time and adding more people to the service area (New Haven would still be connected to Hartford and Springfield with commuter rail service, not to mention already being a major stop on the Shore Line HSR to New York).

But the real reason for the Inland route is to offer redundancy for the possibly lucrative NYC-CT-Boston route, in case of equipment or congestion problems on the Shore Line (New Haven-Providence) and in case of emergencies (hurricanes have wrecked havoc on the Shore Line in the past). Adding the Hartford area (with its dense and wealthy population) directly to the HSR is just an added bonus.


The phase one demand for upstate NY to Boston is threefold. First, is that Canada is already planning high-speed rail to Buffalo, NY. The corridor really should be called Toronto to Boston. There is quite a bit of demand for that. Second, is completion of this line is how Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Toronto will access NYC. These passengers will switch trains in Albany. Third, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse have no direct flights to Albany, the capital. It has long been a complaint of those who regularly travel to Albany that the only practical solution is to drive the 5 hours via the Thruway. It would be silly to build the line across NY and not connect to Boston.

By the way, there is a lot of talk of extending the 3-C corridor in Ohio to include Erie PA, Buffalo NY, Niagara Falls, and Toronto. The Canada, Ontario, Pennsylvania, and Ohio are on board. They only delay is New York.

I’m angry that in Newfoundland and Labrador, where I’m from, they stopped running trains in 1988. I was born in the province’s capital city, St. John’s, not to be confused with Saint John, New Brunswick. Similarly, this is bad in Prince Edward Island that they stopped running trains there, even as the Confederation Bridge linking to New Brunswick in 1997. If they had kept the trains, it could be a rail link to Charlottetown, although I believe it would more likely be single track, given that P.E.I. has 125,000 inhabitants.

What about longer overnight trains? I’d like to keep them. They still run these into northern parts of Quebec, from Winnipeg to Churchill, Manitoba, and from Jasper, Alberta to Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

Oh, yeah. I’m amazed about the aforementioned train in Manitoba still running! And the closures were when the damn Mulroney Conservatives cut out CN routes. More so, it sucked when it was privatized by the Chrétien Liberals.

Thank you for the very extensive assessment of the situation. I was intending on researching a similar article but no so exhaustively. Excellent work! Yes, this seems to be the most logical approach and solution to many transportation issues. By developing an extensive hub network, electric automobiles would be a more viable feeder source to the rail network as there would be shorter distances to travel.

I have been writing about the developments in the California High Speed Rail project. This program is poised well for federal government funding that is becoming available in September.

Matt, CN went from from being a public sector mess to a private sector mess. Though before under Mulruiny there was a lot of bad stuff that happend like the NF Rwy being trashed along with that of the PEI Rwy.

I agree that DC-Pittsburgh-Cleveland is a big omission. Not only does it provide the shorter route from Detroit and Chicago, Pittsburgh is a big metro area in its own right and would benefit from better connections to both DC and Cleveland. Furthermore the DC to Pittsburgh run is just the kind of distance that works so well for the TGV in France and could compete well with a busy Interstate and Air market. Add in an intermediate stop at Cumberland and you could attract longer distance commuters and if done right Park and Ride drivers from West Virginia or tourists from the lakes and beyond.

OK, so the connections to Ithaca and Elmira look right now.

However, going from Reading to Allentown is E by NE, so that looks absurd. Particularly when there’s an existing ROW owned by SEPTA (which they don’t seem to want to admit to owning) running direct from Phildelphia to Allentown. I’d mark those as separate branches from Philadelphia.

More significantly, having looked at the geography, the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh line has some major issues. The current route is severely suboptimal. The same length of route could be followed on an *easier* ROW *going to* State College between Harrisburg and Altoona.

The crucial point is that the mountain ranges run SW-NE in this area; check out Google Maps terrain option. IT seems consistently preferred to run either parallel to or perpendicular to them, I assume to minimize tunnel length. The current route takes the “wrong half” of a square, where the “other half” hits State College.

I suppose one could build massive diagonal-through-mountain-range new-ROW tunnels from Harrisburg to Altoona, but that seems…. unlikely. If going for that amount of money, it should run approximately along the Turnpike (I-76) route, where the mountains run N-S, skipping Altoona and Johnstown entirely.

I rather like the route via State College, though, and I imagine it would garner political support.

You should also know that Vermont is planning to rebuild and reiinstate the west-of-Vermont line (Burlington-Rutland-Bennington). Plans are for it to go from Albany to Bennington via Troy (skipping Schenetady). From a population point of view this may be a better line for the HSR Montreal route than the West-of-Lake-Champlain line. (Incidentally, Burlington will never have a rail connection due west across the lake. A ferry, yes, but only in the summer.) The current Adirondack route may be better as a feeder lower-speed route.

In another part of the country (sigh), the current plans are for the high speed line to run direct from Gary, Indiana to Fort Wayne, Indiana — *not* stopping at South Bend or Elkhart or Goshen, but rather in Valparaiso and possibly Plymouth and Warsaw. This is because there happens to be very straight, very flat ROW available the entire way.

I strongly suggest checking that out as an alternative, too. Elkhart and South Bend would retain conventional service (or possibly conventional service westward, via the South Shore Line only).

Also I would suggest making the Florida East Coast route high speed, but the southern half of Florida is going to be underwater soon anyway, so why bother?

I’m going to have to agree with Nathanael regarding the SEPTA row from Philadelphia to Allentown. This corridor had passenger rail service until 1981. They spent the money this past year to tear up the perfectly good although a bit overgrown tracks. Now they want to turn it into a bike trail. This is a shame because this ROW connects the 1st and 3rd largest metropolitan areas in Pennsylvania. Hopefully rail service will be returned. I started writing a blog about returning rail to this ROW at though I don’t updated it much.

I’m really confused as to why you would think Toronto-Montreal would be so delayed or why Calgary-Edmonton wouldn’t make the cut.

Toronto-Montreal is the busiest route in Canada, and by building the spine through Ottawa and extending to Quebec City and to Windsor, Sarnia & Niagara Falls you would have as existing customers from 62 trains per day.

As for Calgary-Edmonton, it’s foolish to leave it off the list as it is the most ripe for replacing air travel, today racking up 43 commercial full service daily flights and an astonishing level of private commuter airline traffic. It also has the strongest business support with the oil & gas industry, the provincial government and the mayors of Calgary, Edmondon and Red Deer (in the middle) staunchly behind the now fully costed project.

Yonah – I enjoy reading your blog and clearly from the number of comments on the various topics others do as well.

While I find the various suggestions as to alternate route alignments to be very interesting (and Tallahassee, FL may be worthy of HSR reconsideration due to the presence of the State Capital and two major universities) I believe the broader issue is how best to integrate a national passenger rail system – both HSR and standard speed – with the airline hub system and with a yet-to-be-defined urban transit distribution system.

As was previously mentioned in the comment chain, arrival at a major urban area via HSR is fine, but without the means to re-distribute the trips upon arrival the system cannot succeed.

I lived in Europe (Switzerland and England) for 5+ years and traveled extensively. The Swiss transport integration concept is an interesting model, with a passenger train station at the airports in both Zurich and Geneva, and with virtually all train stations throughout Switzerland having the main bus terminal and/or tram station adjacent to the train stations.

While clearly the geographic scope of Switzerland has little in common with the US, we would be wise to gain some understanding of the travel dynamics of the Swiss system, and look for corollaries that may be applicable to a potential US system.

Again, it has already been stated that speed of travel is the key to the success of HSR in America. Accordingly, drawing comparisons between European or Japanese systems and potential US applications overlooks the geographic scope issue that I just pointed out above.

For example, travel between Zurich and Geneva by Swiss Rail takes about 3 hours on a standard speed system. I made this trip by rail many times and frankly would never consider air travel for such a trip.

On the other hand, when going to France I would take the train to the Zurich airport, fly from Zurich to Paris, and take the train to my final destination(s) within an hour or so of Paris.

To be successful in the US, I see HSR as being a series of “regional networks” with links to longer-haul air travel options via the major airline hub cities. In this point, I agree with many of the comments already posted that suggest including rail links to the major airports. These links need not be HSR, but rail links at the key airports are essential (and already exist today in many major cities in the US).

From a policy perspective, the idea of co-mingled freight and passengeroperations is not, in my opinion, highly workable. Perhaps on dedicated tracks in the same rights-of-way some success may be achieved, but on the same trackage this has no chance.

In Europe (Germany has some current examples) there is a trend toward dedicated freight corridors to avoid interference with passenger operations. Keep in mind that in most other countries passenger service is far and away the priority over freight on the rail system.

Europe is facing a growing problem with inter-city freight movements, and highway congestion is a major issue. However, growing rail freight volumes on a passenger rail system is not feasible.

One must recognize that passenger coaches are light-weight vs. a loaded freight car, and as a consequence freight trains operating on passenger networks are designed to operate at a much lower gross weight on rail than what we have in North America. Typical European freight cars (wagons) are rated at 90-tonnes gross weight vs. ours at about 130-tonnes. In addition, Euro-freight trains typically operate loaded at 60 MPH and 75 MPH empty, depending on the operating environment (some do operate at higher speeds).

Finally, keep in mind that a typical standard speed passenger train make-up is 15 to 20 coaches and is operating at 100 MPH to 125 MPH. This means that a freight train operating within the same environment on the same trackage must also be limited to 20 wagons +/- in order to fit into train operating slots, passing sidings, etc.

With this in mind, I see no chance of having a meaningful passenger train network operating on freight rail trackage – we have that model today in AMTRAK and in my opinion it is a failure in terms of truly delivering a bonafide transportation alternative. Where it does tend to work is in the Northeast Corridor which is dedicated to passenger rail.

Although the cost would be higher, I believe that the only way to truly make passenger rail successful is for both HSR and standard speed systems to be fully dedicated passenger rail systems.

This would be more costly, but in the long run would be more successful.

Finally, on the concept of public ownership and operation of the rail system one can also find many examples of this in Europe. The rail system in the UK was set up this way many years ago, and although not without its detractors and various examples of “failure”, I believe that the concept works.

A quasi-governmental entity (today known and Network Rail and previously known as Railtrack) owns, maintains and schedules the rail system. The rail operations – both passenger and freight – are operated by private entities through a “franchise” system where potential operators compete to be awarded an operating franchise.

This interjects some competition into the system and is intended to achieve the best set of alternatives for providing transportation services on the “public rail rights-of-way”.

Again, not a perfect solution but one that we can study and derive some value from their past experiences.

To close, I am reminded of a comment that Yonah included in his commentary about the monorail collision at Walt Disney World in Orlando.

In summary, we still need to make a social conscientiousness transformation in this country such that travel by train and by mass transit is widely viewed as “acceptable”.

People might get excited about HSR, but they still need to get from the rail station to their ultimate destination by some type of mass transit option if we are truly to make an impact on our auto-based transport system.

There are a few problems I have with gaps in your proposal. My dad lives in Nashville, my uncle moved from SF to Richmond, VA, and I have friends in Asheville, NC and Charleston, SC. I’m disappointed with the gap between Johnson City and Blacksburg (the TDX is actually planned to go right up to the TN border at Bristol!) And the lack of a line between Nashville, Knoxville, and Asheville. I would extend this either straight through Spartanburg to Columbia or branch off around Hickory to Charlotte, where it would meet the HSR. The gap in HSR between Macon and Savannah also makes no sense because although traffic between these cities alone may not be sufficient, the loss of a direct connection to Florida will adversely affect the ridership on the Chicago-Atlanta line. There were some other curious gaps where parts of existing routes are missing such as between Portland-Spokane (Empire Builder), Oakland-Sacramento (Capitol Corridor) and Porltand-Boise (reinstated Pioneer). Also, there isn’t a direct route from Nashville-Birmingham. Two corridors I would add would be Kansas City-Des Moines-Minneapolis and Denver-Kansas City. I would also consider HSR on the St Louis-Memphis-New Orleans route which would be a draw for music and food lovers. Other music-themed routes could be New Orleans-Nashville-Detroit and Memphis-Tupelo for Elvis fans (continuing to Birmingham). There could also be a Civil Rights route between Atlanta, Montgomery, Selma and Memphis. Also, you added “Santa” to the name of Oxnard and misspelled Lubbock as “Hubbock”.

a “high speed rail network thats 220 miles a hour?
that should be the mid speed part.
rebuild the whole railnetwork.
and put in a line from Vancouver BC to LA at 400 miles a hours.
a line all along the east coast at 400 miles a hours
then you will have a High speed rail network
thios what your talking about is not and will not work.
the rail net work MUST be as fast and Airlines

Who ever though up the Texas route obviously has never traveled in Texas, and doesn’t know that there is no reason to send the Houston/New Orleans train to Temple. You might as well route it through San Antonio and send it North.

Re : Bryan (#44) Portland, OR – Sacto., CA
There isn’t that much traffic running between those peripheral cities. Portland is a satellite of SeaTac/Puget Sound and Sacto. is a satellite of the SF Bay area. An upgrade to MSR (110 mph) would be sufficient for a long time to come

Re : Calif. HSR + NIMBY’s
I’ve been looking at the maps on various sites and reading articles about some of the NIMBY’s who don’t want HSR running through their town (e.g. Palo Alto). This prompted a radical thought. What if they didn’t build the LA-SF segment first ? Instead, they built the San Diego – Sacto. segment first with wyes (#1) between Ontario and Victorville (tie-ins to LA and Las Vegas), (#2) north of Fresno (tie-in to SF), and (#3) just south of Sacto. (tie-ins to Oakland and Reno). This could result in a shorter (and cheaper !) route from San Diego to Sacto. along with turning up the heat on the NIMBY’s. This idea was inspired in part by SNCF’s Chicago bypass route.

Ted: first, the plan is for SD-Sac to run through LA. Second, there’s no real reason to skip LA, unless you’re trying to minimize ridership. LAUS not only sits in a high-demand area, but also functions as the region’s transit hub, making it much more accessible than airport-style suburban stations. If people have to drive to a suburban station to get on the train, they might as well drive to the airport instead.

So I think there’s one really strong conclusion:

We need Detroit-Toledo Rail ASAP.

Currently it would connect with existing Amtrak services only in the middle of the night. Despite that, there’s a lot of demand for it. Demand from people who will not take the connecting bus. Detroit-NYC is apparently the highest-demand unserved city pair according to some study recently…. and Detroit-Toledo could fill that gap.

There are multiple rail ROWs, and it’s a fairly short distance. But it hasn’t been prioritized by anyone.

So, how do we go about promoting Detroit-Toledo?

Nathanael — Yeah, Detroit-Toledo looks like the red-headed stepchild. Ohio’s priority is Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati first, out-of-state links second. Michigan’s priority is Chicago-Detroit (not to mention trying to save General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, and their suppliers, employees, retirees, unions, cities, etc.)

Amtrak has been focused on Chicago-Kalamazoo-Battle Creek-Ann Arbor-Detroit-Pontiac, where it actually owns a 100-mile stretch of track that it’s been steadily upgrading for several years. It already runs three Wolverines a day, and that’s the HSR route that Michigan wants. Even Indiana asked for $70 million to upgrade part of this line.

Then later, with a curiously worded release, Indiana DOT announced:
“With the support of Ohio and Chicago, Indiana submitted another application on October 2 that would plan, build and launch high-speed rail service between Chicago and Cleveland.” (Why mention support from Chicago — but not any support from Illinois?)

The application is based on the Midwest Regional Rail System Plan with 110-mph top speed. It proposes using eight 300-seat trainsets with tilting coaches and two push-pull locomotives, making eight roundtrips Chicago-Toledo and nine Toledo-Cleveland. At 80-mph average speed, a total trip time Chicago-Cleveland of about 4 hours 20 minutes, they’re asking for $2.8 Billion.

Passenger trips, currently about 140,000 a year, would jump to more than a million when the new service opens in 2017, increasing to almost 1.5 million in later years. It would have an operating deficit at the lower passenger count, but would soon grow to yield a surplus at the higher level.

“The Chicago-Cleveland Corridor Service Program includes feeder bus service … from Toledo to Detroit …”

So there ya are, Nathanael. After $2.8 Billion is spent on Chicago-Cleveland, eight years from now we’ll still need a bus to get to Detroit.

I’ve seen a map with two or three lines from Toledo to Detroit or Ann Arbor or the Detroit-Wayne County Airport. That last station doesn’t exist yet, of course, but the tracks do run tantalizingly near the airport.

Ah, to answer your question, How do we promote Toledo-Detroit?

The point is to open up connections from Detroit to the east. Perhaps we should think of Toledo as an extension of that Chicago-Kalamazoo-Detroit Wolverine line, rather than a rival to it. That route has three trains a day currently. But if Michigan’s application to speed up the tracks gets funded, there could be six or eight or 10 trains a day in a few years. Perhaps two or three of them could bend down to Toledo instead of turning up to Pontiac. Even if they had to turn at Ann Arbor, the Airport, or Dearborn and not make it into the city itself, that could connect the Detroit Metro area to Toledo, Cleveland, and points east. That is, if or when Amtrak starts running trains through Cleveland and Toledo in the light of day, like 2017 under Indiana’s proposal.

Well meanwhile, add or extend a longer Amtrak route into Detroit? The Pennsylvanian leaves NYC at 10:50 a.m., arrives in Pittsburgh at 8:05 p.m. and overnights there. Amtrak recently produced a study which indicated that a second frequency NYC-Pittsburgh would be viable. (Sorry to say, Amtrak seems to have removed this report from public view!)

I considered an overnight train leaving NYC at midnight, when the NEC does have spare capacity. Arrive Pittsburgh 9 a.m., Cleveland around noon, Toledo 3 p.m., Detroit by 5 p.m., and Pontiac at 6 p.m. or so. (I’m taking it to Pontiac only because the Wolverine trains end up there.) Eastbound then could leave Pontiac before noon, Detroit at 1 p.m, Toledo at 3 p.m., Cleveland at 6 p.m, Pittsburgh at 9 p.m., and arrive NYC at 6 a.m. to avoid the morning commuter train traffic. It’s a great schedule for Cleveland — daylight service, imagine it! But the train would be parked in both Pontiac and NYC for 18 hours, and that’s a terrible waste of equipment time. No go.

Try turning the train toward Chicago instead of Pontiac. Toledo to Detroit gets there around 5 p.m., arrives in Chicago around 10 p.m. To get to Detroit by 1 p.m , it would depart Chicago by 6:30 a.m., arriving in NYC about 24 hours later. That still leaves the train parked in Sunnyside Yards for almost 18 hours. Maybe it could alternate with the Pennsylvanian equipment that runs only to Pittsburgh.

Want to try this exercise with a second frequency on the Capitol Limited line? D-C.-Pittsburgh-Cleveland-Toledo and then divert to Detroit? I think the Capitol Limited already spends an embarrassing number of hours parked near Union Station before turning around, so its schedule could be revamped. Maybe it could be extended to Richmond and Newport News, or run Detroit-Chicago as above.

Or how about pushing one of the two
Empire trains NYC-Albany-Buffalo-Niagara Falls beyond Buffalo to Erie-Cleveland-Toledo-Detroit?

By all means there should be passenger trains running Detroit-Toledo-Cleveland, with onward service and connections to the East Coast, from Boston to the Tidewater. As usual, the means it will take are political will, lots of money, and equipment that Amtrak doesn’t have. (And someone more skilled than me to create the schedules. ;-)

If you want to go from New York to Detroit, why not make an agreement with the Canadian government to run through Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and Windsor? If the train makes no stops in Canada, it could be sealed and considered to be intra-national, much like short-hop flights that overfly foreign land or the sealed trains Germany ran between East Prussia and the rest of the country in the interwar period.

Alternatively, such service could make stops in Niagara Falls, Hamilton, and Windsor, but with each station having a fenced-off platform for the train with border preclearance, like in Vancouver, or in all Canadian airports flying into the US. This would also provide some Detroit-Windsor service, and, given good scheduling, allow some Detroit-Toronto service.

Alon — A sealed Canadian route is an option.

But don’t we want service Detroit-Toledo/Cleveland/Pittsburgh even more so?

That Indiana/Midwest Regional Rail Plan on the Chicago-Cleveland line forecast nearly 1.5 million riders a year on eight trains of 300 seats each. That works out to more than 500 passengers per train.

Either half the folks will be standees, or the expectation is that, like the Empire Builder and Amtrak’s other long distance trains, most passengers on the Chicago-Cleveland line will be riding shorter segments like Gary-Fort Wayne or Toledo-Cleveland.

So I’m not expecting to fill a new LD Detroit-East Coast train with passengers going the distance. I’m expecting large numbers Detroit-Toledo-Cleveland. Then large numbers Cleveland-Pittsburgh. Then more Pittsburgh-D.C. or Pittsburgh-Harrisburg. Not to mention Sandusky-Youngstown, and so forth.

I was toying with possibly extending or doubling a train from NYC — or D.C. or Norfolk, whatever — to serve Detroit because of the problem Congress created and you have so clearly pointed out before: Amtrak can run the LD trains at a loss. But for shorter or medium distances they must make money or get states to pick up the bill.

Michigan is already picking up the charges for some Amtrak service into Chicago, and in this economy, it’s not reasonable to expect that state to cover any losses on Detroit-Toledo-Cleveland. Ohio will likely have to cover start-up losses on the 3 C’s. So Detroit needs an LD train or nothing will happen for many more years.

You may be right about the LD problem. The route through Canada is 694 miles by road, versus 795 through Buffalo and Cleveland. Through Pittsburgh it should be 735. The cutoff for federal subsidies is 750, which means that without extra padding, such as further service within Michigan, only the Buffalo-Cleveland route may be subsidized. In that case, the train would probably be hitched to the Lake Shore Limited, and split in Toledo.

Alternatively, since the Lake Shore Limited plus the bus connection does New York-Detroit in 16 hours, including long waits in Albany and Toledo, Amtrak could run a daytime train, taking 15 hours. Such a train would leave each terminus around 8 a.m. and arrive at 11 p.m., and would stay parked overnight.

Such a train could quite possibly operationally break even, freeing it to take a shorter route through Pittsburgh or Canada. The almost-but-not-quite-LD trains in the system do pretty well: the Carolinian and the Virginia section of the Regional made small operating profits in FY 2008; the Adirondack came within $1 per passenger of breaking even, and would’ve probably made money if border controls hadn’t added an hour to the schedule.

Yonah – I was interested in your thoughts about this idea. If Obama was to create a second stimulus that focused on transportation infrastructure it is pretty evident that he would need some clear goals and examples. By allocating money to true HSR the routes in California could be well funded along with improving the NE corridor to a proper speed from Boston to DC. That takes care of the coasts but does not politically make the bill viable. Federal funding of the Chicago-St.L route would free up state funding for all the other routes in the Midwest hub plan, potentially bringing six surrounding states in support. Here’s the real question, should a Houston – New Orleans line be funded at the same time as a political clean up hitter? I know it’s not a first choice for building HSR but it would help revitalize a region, an Obama pledge, and voting against it could be politically dangerous.

A Houston-New Orleans line wouldn’t revitalize anything. Slapping rail on a city doesn’t make it less poor, or else Marseille wouldn’t be having 15% unemployment in good times, and Philadelphia and Baltimore wouldn’t be dirt poor. HSR helps the local boosters, but if you can’t justify it on a business or environmental case, it’s a waste of money.

Funding just the NEC, California, and Chicago-St. Louis would work politically under any administration other than Obama’s. Not only is Obama from Chicago, but also LaHood is from Illinois. Unless he threw in something else, like DFW-San Antonio-Houston, or DC-Atlanta, it would be seen as graft.

It might possibly make sense to give funding to the Florida high speed rail route in that Florida has a high speed rail plan waiting and it is in the south. It is also a very large state in the numbers of possible users of it. If they do build the rail line in Florida it could be extended though the south to meet up with the high speed rail lines in NC

Ocean RR — I’ve been trying to learn to love Florida HSR, and I think I can, I think I can.

As pointed out above, LA-SF, St L-Chi, and the NEC are all blue state specials, and it wouldn’t look right to fund them alone. But of course, HSR requires big, dense metro areas, and as Yonah pointed out, they usually vote Democratic.

Still, no point in giving billions to red state Texas, or thinly populated Louisiana. Better a swing state, and Florida is perfect in that role. Even the chosen route, Tampa-Orlando Airport is in the swing region of the swing state. And the ranking Repub on the House Transportation Committee is from Florida. If he can be kept on board, it will restrain Repub criticism.

It’s also the perfect demonstration route, short enough to be affordable and easily finished in a few years. Then it will become like the damn Disney monorail. Seems every time there’s discussion of future transportation, somebody proposes monorails. Well, duh, they saw it at Disney World and Epcot, described as transportation of the future. We should be so lucky if half the future visitors to Disney World go home ready to support HSR.

I suspect that’s LaHood’s intent. Every time he mentions Florida he seems to be asking them to give him an excuse: they should fund something, anything vaguely rail-related. Mica has told them the same thing.

But there are other states which would fit the bill. Virginia or, even better, North Carolina. Both may have gone for Obama in 08, but Virginia just elected a Republican governor by a substantial margin and North Carolina is, apart from its 08 Presidential vote, still solidly Republican. And as was just mentioned in another thread the Republican Mayor of Charlotte (one of the end-points of the NC HSIPR proposal) is notoriously pro-transit.

Alon, thaks for clarifying a point. If this were proposed Obama would need each line selected to be a home run. There are probably better ways to more quickly help the NO area.

Florida opens Obama up to criticism that he’s distributing pork to swing states in order to win them in 2012. Texas would be better, but the state would need to come up with a plan that’s less stupid than the TTC – for example, the SNCF plan, or a version of the T-Bone that explains where the line would run in the DFW area.

I live in Virginia and Virginia is still a swing state and Floirida too could easly change parties the next election. The high speed rail line going though NC and with a spur to Hampton Roads go though some of the worst hit areas in the state of Vriginia were the unempolyment is passing 15%. At least they could try to extend the NEC down to Richmond VA and at least give NC money to restore the former abandoned S line railroad in NC.

But over all it looks like that all ten of the high speed rail corridors would need to have large sections of them built at once to keep the states happy. They could take 10 billon out of that 68 billon that eather Bear Sterns or Morgan Stanely is starting to pay back to the Goverment or they could take 3 billon from the 16 billon that GM is saying they are planning on giving back to the Goverment. A small section of this bailout money could build whole high speed corridors.

Yonah makes an error of inclusion here (rather than your garden variety error of omission). He ranks the competing corridors like D.C.-Richmond-Raleigh-Charlotte / Crescent 1, #8, and Jacksonville-Orlando-Tamps-Miami / Florida CrossState, #12.

But now we’re talking about affordable short stretches within those longer corridors. D.C.-Richmond and Tampa-Orlando Airport. We could use breakouts to compare the value and viability of these corridors-within-corridors contenders.

I still think California HSR will get the largest piece of the $8 billion plus pie, about $3.5 billion. Florida could get as much, with the advantage that it’s a stand-alone segment that could be funded and finished before the end of Obama-Biden’s second term.

These “true” HST contenders don’t leave much for the incremental improvement candidates, obviously. Not that I’m convinced the others deserve it.

The Chicago-Springfield-St Louis line that I used to think had the inside track only ranks #25 by Yonah’s calculation. Meanwhile, its price tag has climbed to $4.5 billion, for an unimpressive four-hour trip.

And after a study of the recent Amtrak report on the NEC, if I were on the Obama-Biden-LaHood team, I’d punt. ‘The NEC is too important to be part of this little $8 billion pie. It will need congressional action on its own, next year.’

That play could allow one of the feeders into the NEC to become the demonstration line for incremental upgrades — Springfield-Hartford-New Haven, Albany-NYC, Harrisburg-Philly, or Richmond-D.C.

Remember the discussion of the Keystone Corridor here a month or two back. That Pennsylvania project aims to add a million or so passengers, the same as the Chicago-St Louis upgrade, for a lot less than that $4.5 billion Illinois project.

But Richmond-D.C. could easily grab a billion in a swing state with a bipartisan record of support for passenger rail.

Or perhaps use a billion or so to sprinkle around a dozen states or more, mostly to keep hope alive and the pressure on Congress to appropriate many more billions.

Love the concept and the information provided about it thus far. I’m on an Environment and Land Use committee in the Atlanta area, and this link provides a great look at a potential future.

I’m just now getting a first look at this proposed network, and I was wondering about something in the southeast region. It seems to me that it would make a lot of sense to route a 150-220 corridor from Minn/Chi to Miami. By making the Macon – Savannah route a 150-220 corridor, and then continuing from Daytona Beach to Miami with the same. Keep the Daytona Beach – Tampa at 150-220, but it would seem more practical to make the Tampa – Miami segment at 70-120.

I look forward to researching this more. Thanks!

Interesting to see discussion of this. As the first commenter said, it makes me want to visit the future!

I do have to take issue with your Cross Canada prioritisation, though. According to the VIA FAST study back in 2002 (available from the High Speed Canada site (, the following are the trips between cities in the Quebec – Windsor corridor.

Montreal – Quebec City – 6.9 million trips (a staggering 90% by car)
Montreal – Ottawa – Toronto – 4.4 (Mon-Tor) + 3.5 (Mon-Ott) + 2.4 (Tor-Ott) = 10.3 million trips
Toronto – London – Windsor – 3.0 (Tor-Lon) + 1.8 (Tor-Win) = 4.8 million trips

Obviously the Toronto-Windsor portion doesn’t include Toronto-Detroit traffic, or traffic coming from Ohio or Chicago, but the border crossing between Windsor and Detroit get traffic volumes in the 1000s per day, not 10000s, so I don’t know that those trips would add substantially to the Toronto-Windsor volumes.

These numbers would suggest that Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal or Montreal-Quebec City would be the first priority, with connections between Ontario and Western New York and Quebec and New York prioritised over a Detroit-Windsor connection.

Doesn’t the train to Churchill run because there is no road?

What I’d really like to see is long distance tourist trains, i.e. Chicago-Denver-Ski Areas (Winter Park specifically). I picture a sevenish departure from Union Station, with stops in Des Moines and Omaha. There’d be full dining and bar car services and breakfast would be timed for climbing the foothills. When the train pulled out from Moffat Tunnel into a new station where bags would be transferred to hotels (along with check in), lift tickets issued and travelers would ski right onto the slopes (for those of you who’ve never been to Winter Park, the west portal of Moffat Tunnel is at the base of the ski slopes). The return would leave at dinner time Sunday evening delivering skiers before work on Monday.

The decor would have to be “modern alpine” (Pioneer Zephyr perhaps?) and in summer the ski space would and could be used for camping/hiking/backpacking equipment and would be routed to the National Parks. Of course, this would kill off a lot of Wisconsin’s ski industry, but would certainly be easier than driving to Devil’s Head or Alpine Valley for a weekend trip.

I live right across from Detroit and would love to see this happen. The ease of rail travel is highlighted even more with all the regulations of flying, and if I could hop on a high speed rail line to Chicago or other nearby cities I’d definitely take advantage of the service.

Thinking nationally instantly reveals some the problems with the corridors being pursued around the country, and, specifically, in California.

Hubs need to be given priority, not necessarily individual city pairs, because establishing multiple corridors in multiple directions maximizes the usefulness of the system exponentially.

Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York are all natural hubs, and you also identified Montreal, Atlanta, and a few other places. But, perhaps, the most important is San Bernardino. Connecting Palm Springs, Phoenix, and, potentially, Tuscon to Los Angeles and San Diego through the San Gabriel Pass in San Bernardino is obvious, but, less so is the Desert Lightning proposal that uses the very same infrastructure to also connect Las Vegas with both Los Angeles and San Diego.

This “Y”-shaped configuration would also permit Las Vegas and Phoenix to be connected directly to each other.

Running a line through the Tehachapi Pass for Las Vegas, as Desert Xpress proposes, ignores the significant populations on the C.H.S.R.’s L.A.-to-San Diego section. And, naturally, that scenario presumes Desert Xpress can be connected with C.H.S.R.

A line through the Cajon Pass is unlikely, unless, of course, magnetic levitation is employed, but, even if such technology proved feasible in this situation, connections to Los Angeles and San Diego (as well as Phoenix) would require intermodal transfers. And, the proposed section between Ontario and Anaheim would be redundant relative to the C.H.S.R. system. Moreover, Ontario lies several miles west of the foot of the pass and out of the way for passengers traveling north from San Diego and west from Palm Springs-Phoenix-Tuscon. The principal advantage of magnetic levitation, however, is its ability to eventually extend the line to St. George, Salt Lake City, Denver, and/or Reno; however, such extensions can still be accomplished in the future with intermodal transfers from a steel-wheels-on-steel-rails line to Las Vegas.

As such, the ideal is the proposed California High-Speed Rail system joined with Desert Lightning at a hub built at the optional station location in San Bernardino.

I’m currently working on a project about potential for commuter rail in northern New Mexico. This proposal shows a route to Farmington, which doesn’t seem to make sense. The area between Albuquerque and Farmington is full of canyons and mountains, there are parks and monuments in between, and Farmington is fairly small – probably not large enough to justify a route.

I also saw that the high-speed route between Los Angeles and San Diego runs through Riverside, with stops in Murrieta and Escondido. I understand that this is the proposal on the California High Speed Rail website, but it makes no sense – why not run the route through Orange County and Oceanside? This would serve a higher population and provide more direct service, and Riverside would still be served by the route to Phoenix.

A third comment – why is Chicago not served at all until Phase 2? As the third largest city in the country, Chicago should be among the first to be served by high-speed rail, especially since it is surrounded by cities such as Detroit, St. Louis, Indianapolis, and the Twin Cities.

One other thing I was wondering about – how exactly did you score the corridors? Is it possible to predict ridership or determine route feasibility from these scores?

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