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Aviation Data Suggests a Mixed-Bag of Rail Riders

Now that we’re a full week past the initial high-speed rail announcement, we’ve taken the time to resurvey some of the elements of this massive investment. Demand is one of those elements and it’s critical to projecting ridership.

One method we’ve designed to measure HSR demand is corridor air travel. By offering specific boarding information, federal air data provides a stellar source of passenger travel information between any two metropolitan areas.

Using the data we published back in October, here is how the corridors receiving at least $200 million stack up. Keep in mind, the passenger numbers are over the 12-month period from April 2008 through March 2009.


One of the first stand-out elements is that two of the major corridors--Florida and Wisconsin--don’t maintain air service between their target metropolitan areas. For these corridors, the states are going to need cars to come off the road instead of than planes off the tarmac. Wisconsin does have the potential to substitute flyers between Chicago and Madison, but this will largely depend on the speed, quality, and regularity of service.

For the other six corridors, the flashing-light is just how much California is an outlier compared to the other four. The California numbers express just how dynamic a California corridor could be--and why the federal government should continue, if not expand, focus on the state.

Of course, one of the biggest stories is what the table doesn’t say: many of the country’s major sub-400 mile air corridors received no construction funding at all. These range from two giants in the Intermountain West--LA-Las Vegas and LA-Phoenix--to the Texas ‘Triangle’---Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio--to a Southeast connection between Atlanta and Charlotte. Not coincidentally, all three of these regions’ didn’t offer the most finalized of state plans.

Without publication of what went into each of these final selections, we’ll never know the role played by each metric. Moving forward, we’re confident these aviation corridor statistics can help steer federal investors to the best locations.