Calibrating the Intercity High Speed Rail (HSR) Choice Model for the Richmond-Washington, D.C. Corridor

Article excerpt

1. INTRODUCTION

Plans for the Southeast High Speed Rail (SEHSR) Corridor are being developed for the cities extending from Jacksonville, Florida to Washington, D.C. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, intercity rail enhancements are viewed as an important strategy to improve level of service and intercity travels to cities located between 100 and 500 miles apart. Potential for increased demand for high-speed rail (HSR) is especially high in the northern portion of the Commonwealth where major development and economic activities attract travelers from Richmond (the capital city of Virginia), which is about two hours away by conventional ground travel. In a region well known for high dependence on automobile and daily congestion, investment in HSR will provide an alternate travel mode for many travelers while simultaneously reducing the number of automobiles.

As the Commonwealth's No. 1 priority high-performance intercity rail corridor improvement project (Virginia High Speed Rail Development Committee, 2001), the HSR development in Northern Virginia is expected to substantially lower travel times between Richmond and Washington, D.C. At full build-out, the HSR may reduce overall travel times by more than one hour over conventional modes of travel. The reduced travel times and convenient access would attract choice-riders, address highway congestion, and make daily commutes more realistic. At this time, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (VDRPT) just completed the Tier II Environmental Impact Statement required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969. New efforts are underway to identify capital projects and begin constructing portions of the HSR network.

Figure 1 shows the proposed HSR link planned from Richmond to Washington D.C., extending about 115 miles (184 km) from the Amtrak Staples Mill Station in Richmond to the Amtrak Union Station in Washington, D.C. This link is one of the four designated rail links serving commuters between Richmond and Washington, D.C. with urban center stations in Ashland, Fredericksburg, Woodbridge, and Alexandria in between.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

The demand for high-speed rail is perhaps greatest north of Fredericksburg where extensive highway congestion along I-95 has severely impacted daily commutes. Several reasons contributing to corridor congestion include: regional economic growth, uninterrupted suburban sprawl, and intensive intercity linkages. At the same time, capacity enhancement projects, such as construction of I-295, I-395, and I-495 beltways, have not dramatically improved traffic flowing conditions. According to VDRPT (unspecified date), improvements in the rail corridor could permit increased speeds for the corridor passenger trains, resulting in shorter train travel times, which might convince more car drivers to become train passengers.

Air travelers also demand HSR for distances greater than 100 miles (161 km) but less than 500 miles (805 km). The often-cited disadvantages with air travel are high air fare cost, check-in delays, and long access/egress times to/from airport terminals lying outside urban areas. Amtrak (2009) confirms these patterns reporting evidence of shifting mode choice behavior. Amtrak's market share for distances between 100 and 500 miles has exceeded 50 percent that of air for travel routes north of Washington, D.C., including the air trips to intermediate cities.

Evidence of increased demand for rail also exists in the Richmond area. For example, during Fiscal Year 2009, the Richmond--Staples Mill station had a total boarding and alighting amounting to 256,006, which ranked No.1 in Virginia (25% of total Virginia Amtrak station usage) (Source: http://www.amtrak.com/pdf/factsheets/VIRGINIA09.pdf).

Given the fact that HSR is destined to be more and more important in the Richmond-Washington, D.C. Corridor, it is necessary and timely to conduct a preliminary choice model-based quantitative analysis on the future prospect of HSR modal share and ridership. …