Infographic of the Day: Where Should We Build High-Speed Rail?

A map highlights which parts of America will attract the most riders, but the results aren't so cut and dry.

Everyone in the U.S. is hot for high-speed rail nowadays. But does it make sense in any old city? In short, no. As the map here demonstrates, HSR has the most promise in big metropolitan areas, particularly along the northeast corridor, in California, and in the Midwest.

The map was released in tandem with "High-Speed Rail in America," America 2050's 56-page report on parts on the country where high-speed rail can best attract riders (and, as a result, see good returns on the investment). The study scored the nation's megaregions -- metropolitan corridors that collectively contain more than 70 percent of the U.S. population and jobs -- on factors like employment, population, existing public transportation, and so on. The higher the score, the better poised the region to support high-speed rail. High scores are shown in dark red, low in pink:

[Click image for larger view]

The top routes should be pretty obvious to anyone who's ever been stuck in traffic on the 5: Los Angeles to San Diego; New York to DC; Chicago to Milwaukee. What's perhaps more interesting is who didn't score well: notably, Florida. The study concluded that the state's sprawl and dependence on cars creates a feeble market demand -- tough news to stomach, after Florida's already raked in $2.4 billion in HSR grants.

On its blog, America 2050 is quick to point out that it isn't recommending against high-speed rail in Florida, it's simply highlighting a dearth of potential riders. (They also cite one Florida leg that could prove plenty popular: Tampa to Miami, via Orlando.)

Which cuts to a flaw in the study itself: Ridership isn't the sole factor on which a rail system's development should hinge. The authors acknowledge other contingencies like ?project readiness, ability to acquire rights of way, and local political support." At a time of monumental partisan posturing, the latter might be the biggest barrier -- and, given the economic benefits of investing in infrastructure, the most foolish. (See: Wisconsin.)

[Hat tip to Good]

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1 Comments

  • Wisco

    Not so sure that Wisconsin's turning down the $800 million in pork for the train between Madison and Milwaukee was "foolish." (This was, I believe the only federal money in play in Wisconsin -- I don't think the feds were ready to tackle getting to the Twin Cities or to Chicago using HSR, and it wasn't sold that way.)

    Ridership may not be the "sole" factor in deciding where to spend the money, but it should be a major one. And most people will want/need a car to get around Madison and Milwaukee once they arrive, except under limited circumstances. Spending $800 million to replace what's merely a 90 minute trip by car hardly seemed like a great deal.