Comparison of high-speed rail systems for the United States

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Ziemke, Dominik
Meyer, Michael D.
Garrow, Laurie A.
Southworth, Frank
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After decades of standstill in intercity passenger rail in the United States, the Obama administration recently started major initiatives to implement high-speed ground transportation projects that are expected to improve the nation's transportation system significantly, addressing most prevailing issues like congestion and energy prices while having positive effects on the economy. This study evaluates and compares two high-speed ground transportation systems that have the potential to improve intercity passenger transportation in the United States significantly: the wheel-on-rail high-speed system and the high-speed maglev system. Both high-speed ground transportation systems were evaluated with respect to 58 characteristics organized into 7 categories associated with technology, environmental impacts, economic considerations, user-friendliness, operations, political factors, and safety. Based on the performance of each system in each of the 58 characteristics, benefit values were assigned. In order to weight the relative importance of the different characteristics, a survey was conducted with transportation departments and transportation professionals. The survey produced weighting factors scoring each of the 58 characteristics and the 7 categories. Applying a multi-criteria decision making (MCDM) approach, the overall utility values for either system were calculated based on the benefit values from the systems comparison and the weighting factors from the survey. It was shown that the high-speed maglev system is generally slightly superior over the wheel-on-rail high-speed system. Because the magnitude of the difference in the overall performance of both transportation systems is not very big, it is recommended that every project in the high-speed intercity passenger transportation market consider both HSGT systems equally.
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