Recommended Midwest network takes shape
Last week we joined dozens of other stakeholders from around the Midwest for the latest update on the FRA’s regional planning process. The process is nearly complete: the next step is to produce a draft report, which will then be refined into the final plan.
The suggested Midwest network is more or less complete. Check out the image here. The most exciting part is that the model recommends true high-speed rail (“core express,” in purple) for Chicago to Minneapolis, via Milwaukee and Madison.
Next it recommends a minimum of “regional” service with the possibility of true high-speed rail (green lines) on the existing corridors radiating out from Chicago to St. Louis, Detroit and Indy. By regional, the FRA means top speeds of 90 to 125 mph on a combination of dedicated and shared tracks.
Then there is a lot of strictly regional service, represented in red. We continue to be concerned that the study is being too generous with its assumptions about what speeds and frequencies are possible on tracks shared with freight trains. The model assumes the ability to build two new tracks along existing freight right-of-ways.
We think this will often be so difficult or expensive that it would be a better investment to build a new, dedicated, high-speed right-of-way instead. Recognizing this may push some of these red “regional” recommendations towards the maybe-express green level.
The model also recommends lots of new service around the Midwest at an “emerging” level, shown in yellow, on shared freight tracks. This would be faster and more frequent than our existing Amtrak service today. These services are important, because they create a truly region-wide network with many destinations.
We are always talking about the importance of robust, broad networks, and this model affirms that. Check out this table from the presentation:
If you evaluate all the links in the network individually—which is often how we study transportation investments today—you’re only serving 280 markets. If you evaluate the network together, this grows nearly 400% to 1340 markets. Ridership grows by a third, revenue by nearly a half, and the cost to build and maintain the system actually shrinks a bit.
Planning and thinking in networks makes the system much more useful, and a much better return on investment.
We look forward to continuing to work with the FRA and the stakeholder group to share our members’ concerns and refine the plan. A completed draft plan is expected as early as March 2018.
Articles we enjoyed
Transpo Advocates Discuss the Latest Plans for O’Hare Express. A comprehensive take by Streetsblog that quotes Executive Director Rick Harnish