Friday, April 29, 2011

Projections from various Twin Cities to Chicago studies

My previous post was a swing and a partial miss because my memory failed me regarding how much surplus could be generated per year. Well, it's easy to get confused—just check out the level of variation in these previous studies on the Twin Cities to Chicago corridor (ridership, revenue, and surplus are in millions):

StudyProjection yearRouteSpeedTimeRidershipRevenueSurplusOp. ratio
Tri-State I (1991)2024via Rochester
125 mph4:208.1$341$250
185 mph3:1510.6$511$410
300 mph (maglev)2:1512.2$624$501
via Green Bay185 mph3:2010.1$477$370
300 mph (maglev)2:2011.7$584$453
Tri-State II (2000)2020MWRRI River110 mph5:272.9$135.2$51.41.61
via Rochester (DM&E)110 mph5:34
150 mph4:594.2$294.4$172.02.40
via Rochester (new alignment)150 mph4:144.9$361.7$213.02.43
via Rochester (elevated)185 mph3:115.9$480.2$310.02.82
Wisconsin State Rail Plan (2002)2020MWRRI River110 mph5:443.4$121.1
via Eau Claire (alt. 1)79 mph3.7$135.3$55.31.69
110 mph3.7$135.7$55.61.70
via Eau Claire (alt. 2)79 mph3.4$128.8$43.41.51
110 mph3.4$128.9$43.51.51
via Eau Claire (alt. 3)
79 mph6:043.5
110 mph5:423.7$124.2$51.51.71
w/Janesville79 mph3.6$124.0$42.41.52
Rochester Rail Link (2003)2020MSP to Rochester (only?)
150+ mph1.7$50$16
185+ mph1.9$61$22
250+ mph (maglev)2.9$101$34
MWRRI (2004)2025MWRRI River110 mph5:31$172$681.65
SNCF Midwest (2009)2023+via Eau Claire220 mph2:42
SEMNRail/ Tri-State III (2009)2020MWRRI River110 mph6:05
via Rochester110 mph5:52
220 mph
Minnesota State Rail Plan (2010)20??MWRRI River (base case)110 mph1.7
MWRRI River (best case)2.5
via Rochester (base case)1.9
via Rochester (best case)2.9
MWHSR/ Siemens (2011)
2025MWRRI River110 mph6:294.4$158.0
2030via Rochester150 mph3:3012.5$634.2
220 mph2:3015.9$842.1

Amazing—The surpluses may be less than $20 million per year, or they may be over half a billion.

It seems that the original Tri-State study in 1990/1991 was probably the most optimistic about grabbing mode share, actually rising past 10% for the corridor. Most other studies seem to keep the mode share well below 5%, about on par with existing air service. The Tri-State studies have become more conservative over time, though they still seem to be among the most optimistic.

It's not entirely clear to me why there are so many different timings listed for the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative route, which would follow the Chicago–Milwaukee–Madison–La Crosse–Twin Cities route along the Mississippi River. Part of it may be due to people modeling local trains instead of express trains or vice-versa (I have generally preferred express timings when building this table). There are also a few instances where studies only modeled timings from Chicago to Minneapolis rather than Chicago to St. Paul. Going the extra distance can add anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes.

The Wisconsin State Rail Plan document from 2002 is also somewhat interesting because it shows very little difference in performance between 79 mph service and 110 mph service, which isn't terribly surprising to me. However, I've only recently had a chance to scan through that document, so I may be misinterpreting the speeds they listed.


  1. Thanks for linking to all these - I'll have to print and read on my next long train ride.

    Considering there has been a feasibility study every 2-3 years for the last two decade, all of which with positive results for rail, why isn't it time to take it to the next level (alternatives analysis or EIS or whatever)? Wouldn't having it almost shovel-ready put the pressure on Walker? Tri-state III recommended St Paul to La Crosse through Rochester as a first phase anyway, so what's stopping Minnesota from moving forward on that alone?

    It seems like all these preliminary studies are just stalling tactics, like the 30 years of EISes for Central LRT.

  2. I plan to make another post that focuses more on capital costs and benefit-cost soon, and I'll probably try to consolidate the two into a single post (but probably not a single table) at some point in the future. It's simply too much information to put into a single normal HTML table, since it gets too wide to render very well. I'll probably start putting together a Google Docs spreadsheet or something, though.

    Yeah, it's been shown to be a good idea over and over and over again. There was finally a $1.2 million study last year for Twin Cities to Milwaukee routes, but it appears that Walker's machinations in Wisconsin have halted that effort. They were supposed to have more meetings in January or February, but there haven't been any official announcements that I've seen. Pretty frustrating, since 50% of the cost came from the federal government, you'd think that Wisconsin would be obligated to complete it regardless of who's in the governor's office.