Phased Network Approach in a Nutshell

Better tracks, better trains and a big-picture plan
The Phased Network Approach allows French high-speed trains to serve stations far beyond the high-speed line, like the 1922-built station at La Rochelle.

The Phased Network Approach connects entire regions by combining the transformative power of dedicated high-speed lines with the geographic coverage of tracks that handle both passenger and freight trains.

Used across the world, it delivers steady and incremental progress, guided by a long-term plan.

New segments of new or upgraded lines are steadily added over time, like building blocks, to create a growing and thriving network.

In some cases, high-speed trains run on both high-speed and shared-use tracks. In other cases, passengers easily switch between high-speed and conventional trains to get to their destination.

This approach fuses multiple types of trains—running on different kinds of tracks—into a single, flourishing, high-volume network.

In the process, it builds popular support for trains of all kinds.

The Basic Elements

To make fast, frequent and dependable trains a reality in North America, we need a few core elements: three types of track, high-performance trains, and a master plan to tie it all together.

High-Speed Lines boost volume

125 mph to 250 mph

High-speed lines are separated from other railroads, roads and walkways with bridges and tunnels – like an Interstate highway – to create a protected corridor.

High-speed lines attract passengers with dramatically reduced travel times, frequent departures and tremendous reliability.

The Tokyo - Osaka Tokaido Shinkansen is so popular that the schedule offers ten 1,200 seat trains per hour in both directions during peak travel times.

The Milan - Bolonga high-speed line was built alongside the Autostrada.
Urban Trunk Lines maximize value

Up to 160 mph

Urban Trunk Lines maximize high-speed investment by mixing fast commuter trains with high-speed intercity trains on electrified routes within cities.

The San Francisco – San Jose CalTrain route is currently being upgraded and electrified to serve the most up-to-date electrified trains.  The Northeast Corridor has been steadily upgraded to serve a mix of high-speed trains, fast commuter trains and some freight trains.

The Metra's Electric District would be an ideal path for high-speed trains to access Chicago.
Shared-Use Lines extend the reach

80 mph (mostly) to 125 mph (rarely)

Upgrading existing freight lines is a great way to serve hundreds of cities and towns quickly.

Brightline Florida, the Capitol Corridor and Metra’s BNSF route are great examples of how to make shared-use corridors work across the country.

Key success factors include adding track capacity to improve both freight and passenger service, improved maintenance and financial incentives for on-time performance.

The South Shore (left) and Norfolk Southern (right) are two shared-use lines heading to Chicago.
High-performance trains make every kind of service better

Proper train design is the foundation of all successful rail service. It shapes the riders’ experience and the operators’ costs on any kind of train: commuter, intercity or high-speed.

The Federal Railroad Administration recently adopted new safety standards that will allow agencies to improve safety and reduce costs.

Amtrak's new Acela trains will be the first North American trains designed for 186 mph. The first trainset stopped in Chicago on its way to the test track on Pueblo, CO on February 19, 2020
Network plans multiply value

When there’s a plan, each segment of railroad is viewed in the context of the whole network, instead of just the ridership of a single segment. That helps justify more frequent service on each segment, which increases overall ridership, which boosts the value of the network.

A plan also helps planners identify which segments to build first—that is, which will have the biggest impact at the earliest date. And that helps build and sustain broad support and the political will for big investments in trains and transit of all kinds.

The California State Rail Plan of 2018 is the first in the U.S. to take this holistic approach. 

The 2018 California rail plan is the first plan to coordinate commuter, regional and high-speed train development.