The Economic Impacts of High Speed Rail: Transforming the Midwest

Posted by Content Coordinator on Monday, May 2nd, 2011



The Midwest High Speed Rail Association (MHSRA) is continuously striving to improve rail transportation in the Midwest and in particular implement a High Speed Rail (HSR) vision for the Midwest. The association teamed up with Siemens, who sponsored the study, and the Economic Development Research Group, Inc. (EDRG) of Boston, MA and AECOM, who prepared it. This study assesses the economic impacts of HSR on the Chicago metropolitan area. These economic changes will be created by investments in the current Chicago area rail system and other transportation facilities required to support a true “high-speed” intercity passenger train system. The study is structured to provide an independent look –  beyond existing regional passenger rail plans – to a time in the future when high-speed intercity train service, currently enjoyed by other developed and developing post-industrial economies, becomes a reality in the United States.

The goal of the study is to provide a candid and impartial assessment of a wide range of investments that will need to be made in railroads, commuter rail and transit to support a HSR hub in downtown Chicago and to help envision the types of land use and development potential that a well-designed, integrated high-speed system could produce for Chicago and its  surrounding communities. The study provides a basis for understanding the range of infrastructure investments, HSR-oriented development potential and supportive transportation services required to achieve multimodal integrated HSR transportation systems in core metropolitan centers in the United States.

The study also provides an assessment of the ways that HSR will help to integrate the economies of major metropolitan areas throughout the Midwest. The focus is on the Chicago metropolitan area because of its central role in the economy of the region, and because each of the HSR lines assessed in this study is linked directly with interconnecting commuter rail, transit and suburban stations serving Chicagoland. The economic impacts are significant and show how HSR will play a vital role in advancing Chicago’s position as a global metropolitan center of business and finance creating nearly 104,000 permanent, high-paying new jobs and $7.8 billion annually in new business sales. Even more important, and as yet unexplored, are the economic consequences of introducing HSR service to each of the seven major metropolitan areas with populations between 3 million and 1 million, and the seven cities with populations between 200,000 and 750,000. As shown in a recent study for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the economic effects of HSR on small and medium sized metropolitan areas can be transformative when combined with effective land use and transportation services.

The overall study area is defined by the location of major metropolitan areas within 300 to 450 miles of Chicago, which corresponds to a two- to three-hour, one-way HSR trip. This is the same area covered by the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI) plan to develop a system of 110-miles per hour (mph) “emerging” HSR corridors radiating from Chicago. This plan was most recently documented in the MWRRI Executive Report published in September 2004. Though the participating states – Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Nebraska – have conducted studies of a number of individual corridors since its publication, the 2004 Executive Report remains the basis for the cooperative vision of 110-mph service in the study area, including the participating states’ recent applications for federal HSR funding.

The MWRRI plan would provide trains approximately every two hours between major destinations at average operating speeds of 70 to 80 mph. This is a significant near-term upgrade that offers intercity travelers a choice of rail travel times that are reasonable alternatives to auto travel and lays the groundwork for a robust regional network for the future. However, true HSR service operating at top speeds of 150- to 220-mph or more, is a different product than the upgraded conventional passenger rail service envisioned in the MWRRI plan.

The key attribute of true HSR as it is envisioned in this study is that it cuts travel time between major city pairs to under three hours, making day trips by rail possible and rail  door-to-door travel time complementary to air travel for cities within 450 miles of Chicago. Frequent trains, high-capacity and clockface schedules remove worries about running late and missing the train because another train will be leaving within an hour. Where HSR has been introduced in Europe and Asia, the quantum leap in frequency, speed and capacity inherent in true HSR service, along with commensurate feeder services, has produced a “sea change” in travel behavior. With true HSR service, the train becomes the preferred mode of travel for business and pleasure between destinations along the route, and the three-hour travel time allows rail to capture overall market shares of 30 percent or more.

In the context of a future Midwest passenger HSR system, which includes some corridors that operate at speeds up to 220-mph, the MWRRI plan is a cost-effective initial investment. The high construction and operating cost of true high-speed service can only be commercially justified in a few high-volume travel markets. Medium and small markets will continue to be served by conventional passenger rail routes that serve as feeders to the true high-speed lines. Therefore, the prototypical HSR corridors evaluated in this study have been fully integrated into the MWRRI plan, as shown in Figure 1. This study also describes how HSR (with 150 to 200+ mph top speeds) can be introduced incrementally through infrastructure upgrades over a number of years, while the MWRRI-proposed system of 79 to 110-mph service continues to provide improved rail service to the Midwest.

Midwest Candidate Corridor Descriptions

Four corridors centered on Chicago appear appropriate for eventual upgrade to true high-speed service (220+ -mph), like those now operating in Europe and Asia. This network would serve the six largest metropolitan areas of the Midwest – Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Cleveland, providing end-to-end service of less than three hours in each corridor. The four corridors and potential stations are shown in Figure 2. These include the following:

  • Chicago to Minneapolis/St. Paul
  • Chicago to St. Louis
  • Chicago to Cincinnati
  • Chicago to Detroit/Cleveland

This study focuses on the Chicago hub, illustrating the considerations involved with implementing HSR in a dense, urban environment and in heavily-trafficked rail corridors. Within this area, and especially at greater distances from Chicago, routing and station locations are provided as examples and do not necessarily reflect specific recommendations. Full environmental review and market analysis will be vital in identifying a range of alternatives for routing and station locations in each corridor. The following sections describe possible alignments and improvements that would be required to realize true 220-mph HSR service. The term 220-mph is used to describe top speeds; because trains would make a number of intermediate stops and top speeds will not be reached on all sections of a corridor. For purposes of estimating actual travel times and ridership, end-to-end speeds approaching 150-mph are used. Key considerations regarding route selection are exemplified in the “High Speed Rail Development Checklist” provided in Section 11.


Download Executive Summary (PDF): The Economic Impacts of High Speed Rail
View full version (

About Midwest High-Speed Rail Association
“We primarily advocate for world-class 220-mph high-speed trains linking major Midwestern cities. We support fast, frequent and dependable trains on other routes that connect with 220-mph corridors to form a true modern regional and national rail network We believe that a strong network of fast trains will make the Midwest a more attractive place to live and do business while slowing the growth of auto congestion and its related energy and pollution impacts. Visit us at

Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.

Follow InfraUSA on Twitter Facebook YouTube Flickr


Show us your infra! Show us your infra!

Video, stills and tales. Share images of the Infra in your community that demands attention. Post your ideas about national Infra issues. Go ahead. Show Us Your Infra!  Upload and instantly share your message.

Polls Polls

Is the administration moving fast enough on Infra issues? Are Americans prepared to pay more taxes for repairs? Should job creation be the guiding determination? Vote now!


What do the experts think? This is where the nation's public policy organizations, trade associations and think tanks weigh in with analysis on Infra issues. Tell them what you think.  Ask questions.  Share a different view.


The Infra Blog offers cutting edge perspective on a broad spectrum of Infra topics. Frequent updates and provocative posts highlight hot button topics -- essential ingredients of a national Infra dialogue.