Intercity Passenger Rail in the Context of Dynamic Travel Markets

Intercity passenger rail in the United States is often analyzed from the supply-side perspective. As a result, the importance of travel times, frequency, and service quality is generally well documented in the literature and in actual market experience; however, questions regarding intercity passenger mode choice decisions in a changing marketplace are less well studied. Because of this imbalance, decision makers responsible for planning, financing, and implementing and operating intercity passenger rail lack an effective analytical framework that takes into account changing demand-side attributes in the context of changing supply-side competition. This is a problem when considering levels of service, modal attributes, costs, and other relevant factors that are necessary as part of the planning and implementation process. Nevertheless, these decision makers must make service and capital investment decisions that frequently require long-term commitments for markets that may change significantly in the future. Also contributing to this uncertainty is a lack of understanding from the perspective of the passenger or potential passenger: (1) What are the factors behind an individual's decision to choose rail or some other mode of travel for an intercity trip? (2) How do these factors vary among individuals, markets, types of service, and trip purposes?Many travel markets have recently experienced major shifts in travel patterns, illustrated by three characteristics: (1) a rapid rise of intercity bus travel in selected city-to-city travel markets, (2) significant air-to-rail mode shift in markets such as the Northeast Corridor, and (3) significant changes in mode preference among younger and older generational cohorts. Some of these changes are directly related to changes in the supply or quality of service, but many are based on additional factors that have not been as thoroughly researched or documented. As planned or potential intercity passenger rail infrastructure investments and service improvements are considered, many of these non-supply side factors will affect demand for and frequency of service. In this competitive environment, decision makers need effective strategies to address varied factors to facilitate a more consistent approach to evaluating alternative system investments. Research is needed that considers how these additional factors can affect demand for rail and other competitive modes so that future decision makers can more accurately plan and analyze impacts of these investments on the multi-modal transportation network. The objective of this research is to develop an analytical framework to improve understanding of how current or potential intercity travelers make the choice to travel by air, rail, bus, or private automobile for the majority of their trip. This framework should provide guidance for use by a diverse audience of practitioners and decision makers considering alternative planning, operating, financing, service, and capital investment strategies for intercity passenger rail service in existing and potential travel markets, and it should allow users to evaluate how mode choice is affected by a variety of changing and evolving parameters including, but not limited to, the following: (1) Demographics and income; (2) Access and egress at trip beginning and end; (3) Technology changes related to the transportation system; (4) Technology changes affecting lifestyle; (5) Cultural and societal attitudes; (6) Land use, community livability, and environmental concerns; (7) Trip purpose and cost; (8) Passenger value of time and perception of productivity; (9) Competitive response from alternative travel modes; and (10) Service attributes and system performance. The research plan should consider the following components and incorporate an international as well as a domestic perspective in developing an analytical framework for use by decision makers, and it should demonstrate application of this analytical framework using specific scenarios representing diverse markets. A literature review and other information-gathering techniques, focusing on an analysis of intercity mode choice behavior and factors that influence that choice and addressing what market research techniques are currently in use to evaluate intercity travel demand. (Note: the review should also address potential techniques used in non-transportation consumer choice models.) An evaluation, using a case study or alternative approach, of how broad consumer choice experience, research techniques, and models can be applied to and enhance an understanding of intercity travel behavior. A description of data requirements, availability, and sources for formulating an analytical framework for evaluating intercity travel behavior, and the factors that drive that behavior. An analytical framework for considering and incorporating the factors affecting mode choice decisions in intercity transportation markets Recommended strategy(ies) for acquiring information to fill data gaps to the degree possible. Illustrative applications of the analytical framework to historic examples and future scenarios representing various passenger rail infrastructure and service alternatives. Recommendations for future study. The research plan should build in appropriate checkpoints with the NCRRP panel, including, at a minimum, (1) a kick-off teleconference meeting to be held within 1 month of the "Notice to Proceed," (2) one face-to-face interim report review meeting approximately 40% to 50% through the research, and (3) web-enabled teleconferences tied to panel review and NCRRP approval of other interim deliverables as appropriate throughout the research program.


  • English


  • Status: Active
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project 03-02

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Federal Railroad Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590

    National Cooperative Rail Research Program (NCRRP)

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001
  • Project Managers:

    Goldstein, Lawrence

  • Performing Organizations:

    Resource Systems Group Incorporated

    55 Rail Row
    White River Junction, VT  United States  05001
  • Principal Investigators:

    Coogan, Matthew

  • Start Date: 20130729
  • Expected Completion Date: 0
  • Actual Completion Date: 20150529
  • Source Data: RiP Project 37793

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01543878
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project 03-02
  • Files: TRB, RiP
  • Created Date: Nov 22 2014 1:02AM