While planners and politicians alike go about kicking the tires of various trains, and traveling abroad on fact-finding missions about HSR, the question remains whether Americans will patronize high-speed rail in sufficient number to justify the investment. A common practice is to identify an existing or abandoned rail line as the candidate route that connects population centers, identify the former stations for rehabilitation, select a technology, and then perform an investment-grade ridership study to determine whether sufficient revenues will be generated. This approach may prove sufficient in the upgrading of an existing conventional service, or re-establishing a previous service in those areas of the country with a long history of passenger rail. When approaching newer developed areas such as the Sunbelt cities, the inter-relationship of development patterns and fixed-guideway passenger services is not established. Those development patterns were influenced by the automobile, not by guideway-based transportation. A different approach is needed when history is not a guide. While the selection of the population centers to be served at the outset is appropriate and makes for a basic identification of the market to be served, it does not reveal the actual destinations that are interest to the travelers. The next step is to more thoroughly investigate travel between those points. That investigation should include surveys to determine trip purpose, identify the main attractors in the markets, the demographics of the travelers and how time is valued by the travelers. Finally, estimates must be made of the absolute numbers of those traveling. Additionally, examination of the current travel patterns through the patronage of existing services can provide clues to the market demand. The acquisition of this market information then allows the planners to design a transportation product that will appeal to the potential customers and make a determination of potential revenue. Even when certain parameters of a system are set because of geography or availability of infrastructure, market information can guide improvements to maximize market capture. This paper will examine those data that are important to a high-speed rail plan and how some system decisions directly affect the ability of the transportation product offered to satisfy the needs of the traveling public. “Build it and they will come” cannot be trusted to repay the massive investment required by high-speed rail.

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