Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

(Surprise!) Americans favor passenger trains

This press release provides some interesting observations. Of course, we note the obvious bias in favor of the party paying for the survey (airlines and truckers would never resort to that, now would they?).

HNTB’s America THINKS survey highlights public perspectives on high-speed train travel

KANSAS CITY, Mo., April 7 /PRNewswire/ — The romance of riding the rails may be returning to America thanks to new federal funding and a public hungry for ways to save time, money, the environment, and add a measure of convenience in their hectic lives.

According to a new study commissioned by HNTB Corporation, more than half of Americans (54 percent) would choose modern high-speed trains over automobile (33 percent) and air travel (13 percent) if fares and travel time were about the same.

“Our country needs high-speed rail as part of a balanced transportation system,” said Peter Gertler, chair of the firm’s high-speed rail practice. “It has been the missing lynchpin in our national network. Without it, the whole system is less effective.”

Now is the time to act

High-speed rail is receiving renewed attention in this country due to a variety of factors, including last year’s spike in fuel prices, the passage of a $10 billion bond measure in California last November to support the development of a high-speed rail system there, and $8 billion this year for high-speed rail in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Prominent supporters from both political parties include President Barack Obama; Vice President Joe Biden; Rep. Jim Oberstar, chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; Rep. John Mica, ranking Republican member of the committee; California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, who recently toured high-speed rail systems in Spain.

The survey showed Americans would be most excited by the possibility of more convenient travel (71 percent), less expensive fares (69 percent) and faster trains (55 percent) with the introduction of high-speed rail in their region.

Gertler said educating people who haven’t ridden high-speed trains remains a priority. There were clear differences between experienced and nonexperienced riders, including a much lower preference for traveling to large cities nearby via car (41 percent versus 69 percent) and a higher expectation of productivity when traveling high-speed rail on business (51 percent versus 38 percent). He added the fact that less than three in ten (29 percent) Americans understand the environmental impact high-speed trains can have versus traditional train travel – and high-speed rail’s overall positive impact versus other forms of transportation – emphasizes the need for a more informed public.

“High-speed rail will benefit the country in a variety of ways, including improved mobility, job creation, reduced usage of fossil fuel and fewer annual greenhouse gas emissions,” Gertler said. “High-speed trains use one-third as much energy as comparable air travel and consume less than one-fifth as much energy as driving. This is proven technology that America can adopt and protect its status as a mobility super power.”

Transforming transportation in America

High-speed trains operate significantly faster than traditional trains, traveling from 110 mph to more than 200 mph. The highest-speed trains are powered by electricity, but others run on diesel fuel. Currently, the only operational high-speed rail system in the U.S. is the Acela Express, which travels between Boston and Washington, DC, and achieves speeds up to 150 mph.

HNTB’s research, the second in a series of “America THINKS” surveys, found even greater acceptance of high-speed rail among the 18 percent of Americans who have experienced such travel here or abroad. An overwhelming majority of high-speed train travelers (82 percent) found it more enjoyable than plane travel and slightly more than half (51 percent) said they would be most productive on high-speed trains when traveling for business.

“For more than 40 years, with the exception of the Acela, the United States has not been able to implement high-speed rail while other countries developed, ran, and are retiring their first high-speed trains to museums,” Gertler said. “Now with new funding and renewed vision, more Americans will be able to appreciate the value of this transformative transportation alternative.”

Even among those who haven’t traveled by high-speed rail, more respondents said they would prefer traveling on such trains (22 percent) rather than by plane (6 percent) or bus (3 percent) to the closest large city. Only Americans’ love affair with their cars provided a stronger pull (69 percent).

In fact, nearly half of the nation (49 percent) said the best benefit of high-speed rail in their region would be the ability to travel more easily to cities up to 400 miles away. Experts agree high-speed rail is best-suited for journeys of 100-500 miles or 1 to 3 hours. The U.S. Federal Railroad Administration has identified 10 such corridors as potential centers of high-speed rail activity.

About the survey

HNTB’s America THINKS survey polled a random nationwide sample of 1,007 Americans March 18-23, 2009. It was conducted by Kelton Research, which used an e-mail invitation and online survey. Quotas were set to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total U.S. population ages 18 and over. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 percent.

About HNTB Corporation

HNTB Corporation is an employee-owned infrastructure firm serving federal, state, municipal, military and private clients. With nearly a century of service, HNTB has the insight to understand the life cycle of infrastructure and the perspective to solve the most complex technical, financial and operational challenges. Professionals nationwide provide award-winning planning, design, program management and construction management services. For more information, visit

EDITOR’S NOTE: Additional Survey Results

  • Seven in ten (70 percent) think train travel in general would be more appealing to Americans if it included more routes or cities in certain regions.
  • A majority (56 percent) of Americans would be more apt to sign-up for high-speed train travel if it was the most comfortable option.
  • Americans who live in urban areas are the biggest proponents of improved quality and comfort of train travel (65 percent) versus rural and suburban dwellers (57 percent).
  • Nearly a third (31 percent) place job creation at the top of their lists benefits from high-speed rail coming to their region.
  • Women would be more excited than men about the environmental benefits of high-speed rail in their area (45 percent versus 41 percent) while more men would appreciate faster trains (62 percent versus 50 percent.)

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

2 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    “The love affair with the automobile” I think is sometimes misleading. What is really going on I believe is the perceived convienence of having a car once you arrive. Many train stations do not have car rental or very limited car rental. Many stations are not connected to airports or local mass transit. When my wife and I took Amtrak to from Chicago to St. Louis for a friends wedding we had to get on the local train/metro (at least they have that connection) and then ride to the airport on the other end of town to get our rent a car. If this could be better connected and easy to use I think that resolves some of the love affair. I know I certainly do not have a love affair with driving through the entire state of IL or going out to the airport on one end of the trip with the hassles of security and then back downtown on the other end.

  2. Cal says:

    I think its less a love affair and more like unable to really function without a car. The USA has been so suburanized that rail travel outside of the NEC/Chicago/San Francisco a car is a must. Lets hope a HSR network will bring about a more Urban life and all its convient non car options much as the USA once had before the auto 1950s

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April 2009


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