How to use the city-building power of intercity passenger rail


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Two new resources in the library explore building passenger rail lines to stronger communities and economies 

In the coming decades, targeted investments in faster, intercity passenger rail will help communities better compete economically by providing another option for traveling between cities and through busy, congested metropolitan corridors.

Since 2009, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), has allotted billions of federal dollars to constructing or rehabilitating infrastructure to bring faster passenger rail travel to several key corridors. With the addition of speedier train travel, commuters will have a fast and convenient option for travel in five heavily-trafficked corridors and regions — from Seattle to Portland, San Francisco to Los Angeles, Charlotte to Raleigh to Washington, D.C., the Midwest hub anchored by Chicago, and the Northeast corridor.

All told, the federal government has committed $10 billion to 150 planning and construction projects to improve the current intercity passenger rail network. That’s not just good for travelers; it’s good for the communities along the rail lines.

Efficient, speedy passenger rail is a powerful tool for boosting local economies. It provides an alternative and affordable travel option. Passenger rail also encourages new development and focused growth in cities and towns, both small and large. In addition to cost and convenience benefits for commuters, passenger rail facilities can be woven into the walkable fabric of local shops, restaurants, and residences, and connect intercity travelers efficiently to other transportation options to complete their trips, whether public transportation, bikeshare systems, or taxis.

Two new resources added to the library give insight into how to the nation’s investment in intercity passenger rail can be used to build better cities and economies:

  • Eric Eidlin’s Making the Most of High Speed Rail in California: Lessons from France and Germany looks to European rail systems to examine how high-speed rail—when thoughtfully integrated with local transit and development—can strengthen cities and towns along rail corridors. This report highlights best practices from Europe that can help inform California’s High-Speed Rail Authority (CAHSRA)’s planning efforts. 
  • The Federal Railroad Administration’s Station Area Planning for High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail provides an easy-to-read reference toolkit for designing and developing intercity passenger rail stations and the communities that host them. The report discusses how planners can choose the right locations for rail stations, maximize the ease and number of connections with their communities’ own transit networks, and integrate the stations into their cities through proper zoning and scale-appropriate development.