The Hiawatha Service is an Amtrak intercity passenger rail service operating a 90-mile route between Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Chicago, Illinois. The route has experienced a steady growth in ridership in recent years, carrying more than 815,000 passengers during the 12-month period ending September 2011. Owing to the route’s trip-time competitiveness with the automobile, frequent daily service, an intermodal connection with the airport in Milwaukee, and the multi-state funding partnership between the states of Wisconsin and Illinois, the Hiawatha Service is a model of how passenger rail can be an integral part of the multimodal transportation system in an intercity corridor. In January 2011, researchers from the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) passenger rail research group, with financial support from the University Transportation Center for Mobility (UTCM) and in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), initiated a research project to examine the mobility impacts of the Hiawatha Service intercity passenger rail route. One of the major elements of this research project was an on-board survey of Hiawatha Service passengers, implemented in Spring 2011.
This paper reports a summary of selected findings from the 2011 TTI/WisDOT Hiawatha Service passenger survey. The survey obtained valuable information about the current passengers, including data on passenger trip purpose, activities before and after the rail trip, travel alternatives to the Hiawatha Service if the route was not available, motivations for choosing rail for the trip, the impact of potential service changes on increasing ridership, and demographic profile data. A majority of passengers traveling on weekdays were regular commuters or business travelers while personal trips are dominant on weekends. Nearly 70 percent of passengers would drive if the rail service was not available, suggesting that the Hiawatha Service plays a critical role in relieving highway congestion in the region. The results of this study can be used by public agency planning staff and policymakers to guide the development of new intercity passenger rail services in similar corridors across the U.S.