The proposed system would operate 12 trains each way per day, including at least six express schedules. With modern diesel equipment running at speeds of up to 110 mph to start, the 300-mile trip between downtown Chicago and downtown Columbus would normally require only three hours, 45 minutes (express service), or four hours (local service). Track and safety improvements in a potential future phase would support speeds up to 130 mph and a downtown Chicago to downtown Columbus express time of three hours, 20 minutes.
The business plan, which includes evaluation and modeling of service scenarios, operating strategies, fare structures, ridership and revenue forecasts, operating and capital costs and financing and funding arrangements, was conducted by Transportation Economics and Management Systems, Inc. (TEMS), of Frederick, Md., under contract to the NIPRA. TEMS has previously conducted the economic analysis for the nine-state Midwestern Regional Rail Initiative (2007) and for the Ohio and Lake Erie Regional Rail (Ohio Hub) Study (2007) for the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan and New York.
Fred Lanahan, President of the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association, noted that his organization is pleased that financial analysis indicates a significant surplus of benefits from the project in terms of service revenues, user benefits (including time savings), employment impacts and reductions in congestion and emissions. During the 30-year life of the project, it is expected to produce benefits of more than $6 billion, with a positive benefit/cost ratio of 1.7 ($1.70 in direct benefits for each dollar invested). The analysis also indicates that private operation of the system would be possible without annual government subsidies.
Regional economic benefits during the life of the project are projected to include creation of 26,800 new full-time equivalent jobs; $700 million per-year in additional household income and $2.6 billion in joint development opportunities for the corridor communities.
More than two million riders per year on the Columbus-Chicago rail corridor are projected after a 12 to 24 month start-up period. At the end of 2012, the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission reported that ridership on Amtrak corridor service within the Midwest once again experienced record growth during fiscal year 2012. Total ridership on the nine routes grew by 3.5 percent over the previous year; during the past five years, corridor service ridership in the Midwest has risen 35 percent.
Currently, the 1.9 million Columbus metropolitan area population is the largest in the U.S. that is not served by any type of passenger rail. Fort Wayne, located midway between Columbus and Chicago, represents the largest city in Indiana without any form of passenger rail service. Columbus is the 15th-largest U.S. city and Chicago is the third-largest.
The proposed next step for the development of the rail corridor is a Tier One Environmental Impact Study for which the corridor cities are now identifying funding.