The development of a nationwide commuter and high-speed rail (HSR) network has been suggested as a promising and “greener” passenger transport solution with the potential to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, given efficient planning that will ensure sufficient ridership and sustainable investment. It is anticipated that passenger rail growth will bring regional economic benefits as well as promote energy independence, transportation safety, and livable communities with improved accessibility and inter-connectivity.

Much research has been conducted to identify the benefits and costs associated with the operation, maintenance, and improvement of passenger rail services. However, previous studies supporting investment in passenger rail have generally considered one evaluation factor at a time. Additionally, studies suggesting that investment in passenger rail is not cost-effective give more weight to quantifiable benefits and current conditions, and rarely consider changes in public preferences influenced by policies and fostered conditions to encourage mode shifts. Thus, the literature lacks a comprehensive approach that would evaluate investments in passenger rail, accounting for quantifiable and other benefits, in light of environmental, resilience and sustainability, economic, demand, and feasibility factors.

Using a case study of the Hoosier State line, this study illustrates a systems approach for comprehensively assessing passenger rail services in the United States in terms of the system’s existing opportunities and future directions. The Hoosier State line operates four days per week between Indianapolis, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois with four intermediate stops. As of October 1, 2013, the State of Indiana, local communities, and Amtrak reached an agreement to support the Hoosier State line for the next fiscal year (2013–2014).

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