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Study: two-thirds of travelers will use high-speed rail

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A new survey of 25,000 people by the American Public Transportation Association concludes that a majority would take advantage of high-speed rail service, when and if offered. However, it's not clear if they would become permanent customers.

There's been no shortage of debate over the viability of America's plans for high-speed rail, which call for connecting major cities within California, Texas, Florida, the upper Midwest, and the Northeast corridor. Critics say, however, that such a system will be underutilized, especially considering the huge costs involved to build and operate the network.

The American Public Transportation Association released a survey that shows that nearly two-thirds of adults (62 percent) said they would definitely or probably use high-speed rail service for leisure or business travel if it were an option.  The survey, among 24,711 adults, was conducted for APTA by Synovate. Only 11 percent said they definitely would not take a ride on the new system.

In a related development, SmartPlanet editor Andrew Nusca discusses the announcement by the US Department of Transportation releasing $2.4 billion in funds for high-speed rail development.

Convenience and saving money were key factors for whether travelers would choose high-speed rail service over other modes of transportation.  When asked how important various factors would be in choosing high-speed rail service, survey respondents ranked the top four as follows: (91%) shorter travel times compared to driving to their destinations; (91%) less expensive than flying to their destinations; (89%) less expensive than driving to their destinations; and (85%) integration with local public transit so they can avoid use of rental cars, cabs and parking fees.

Other factors the survey respondents ranked as important in choosing high-speed rail as a mode of travel: (80%) shorter travel times compared to flying to their destinations; (79%) the experience traveling by train; (78%) opportunities during their leisure or business trip to visit another city that is linked to their destinations by high-speed rail; and (75%) environmental concerns.

Not clear from the APTA's press release are the geographic locations of respondents, or whether they would try out a high-speed rail out of curiosity, with the novelty wearing off, and they would fall back into old driving and flying habits.

Some clues may be found in America's current functioning high-speed (well some of the time) train-- Amtrak's Acela Express. Acela has captured over half of the market share of air or train travelers between Washington and New York, according to a Wikipedia entry. The Acela carried 3.2 million passengers in fiscal year 2010, and is one of the few Amtrak lines to operate at a profit, generating $409 million, or more than half of Amtrak's total revenue.

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure