President Obama announced in April 2009, and reconfirmed during his recent State of the Union address, his commitment to develop high-speed intercity passenger rail across the United States.
High-speed rail is a type of passenger rail transport between major cities that operates at substantially faster speeds than current intercity passenger trains in the U.S. It is designed to provide fast, reliable, and convenient service, operates using electric power and often includes onboard amenities such as food and beverage service and Wi-fi access.
The Harris Poll conducted an online survey among 2,566 adults between January 17 and 24, 2011 to gauge awareness, intention to use and position on funding for high-speed rail. At the time of the survey, there were ten proposed high-speed rail corridors across the United States. To-date, projects in California and Florida have been the most visible.
When Americans were asked about awareness of high-speed rail projects, only a little more than a third (35%) of those living in one of the proposed high-speed rail corridors said they are aware of a high-speed rail project that is either proposed or under development in their state, with more than four in ten (45%) unsure. “The relatively low awareness of high-speed rail across the country is not surprising given the disparate, regional nature of today’s hottest HSR debates” said Linda Schulz, Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy at Harris Interactive. “However, as discussions become more prominent in more areas, and as projects get underway, we will be well positioned to monitor changing awareness and attitudes”. Not surprisingly, awareness is highest in states where HSR is developing the fastest (68% are aware in California corridor, 60% in Florida). Awareness in other states with proposed high-speed rail projects include the Chicago Hub at 31% and New York at 28%.
After explaining HSR, two thirds of Americans (66%) indicate they are somewhat or very likely to consider using the service when traveling for pleasure, but that number drops in half (33%) when asked about travel for business. Men, however, are more likely to consider HSR travel than women for both business and pleasure. Additionally, those with more education and greater income are also more likely to consider traveling by high-speed rail.
Factors in Choosing High-speed Rail
There are many factors that may impact the use of high-speed rail, but cost (81%), location of train stations (68%), overall trip time (65%) and safety (61%) are the primary factors that people would consider before choosing to utilize high-speed rail. Both cost and safety are especially important to women compared to men.
Funding High-speed Rail
A very public issue surrounding high-speed rail today is funding. Several states have declined the use of federal funds including Ohio, Wisconsin and most recently Florida (this survey was conducted before Florida declined funding). However, almost two thirds of Americans (64%) say they somewhat or strongly support using state funding for HSR and a similar number (62%) support using federal funds. The areas with the greatest support for high-speed rail funding include the California corridor where 70% support state funding being used and 73% support federal funding. 70% of both the Pacific North West and Gulf corridor residents also support state funding with more than 60% each also supporting federal funding. Additionally, more than two thirds of Florida residents support state and federal funding of high-speed rail, “a particularly poignant point”, notes Schulz, as Florida recently declined federal HSR funding the state had actively sought. While those in states without a high-speed rail project still support state funding (61%), they are more likely to oppose federal funding for these projects (32%).
With the relatively steep prices and the time consuming security processes associated with current airline travel, and increases in the cost of gasoline affecting highway travel, American consumers may be looking for a travel alternative. While many of them are not aware of high-speed rail plans, on balance they support using government funds to develop high-speed rail projects, yet time will tell how many of these projects successfully get underway, and how many Americans then take advantage of them. Of course, it should also be noted, this has become a highly politicized issue with Republicans, Democrats and Independents expressing varying levels of support for the development and allocation of funds to HSR.
AWARENESS OF HSR
“High-speed rail is a type of passenger rail transport between major cities that operates at substantially faster speeds than current intercity passenger trains in the U.S. High-speed rail is designed to provide fast, reliable, and convenient service between select major cities. It operates using electric power and often includes onboard amenities such as food and beverage service and Wi-fi access. Do you know if high-speed passenger rail service is being proposed or under development in your state?”
About Harris Interactive
“Harris Interactive is one of the world’s leading custom market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for the Harris Poll and for pioneering innovative research methodologies, Harris offers expertise in a wide range of industries including healthcare, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer package goods. Serving clients in over 215 countries and territories through our North American, European, and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help us – and our clients – stay ahead of what’s next.”