Project Background

Federal Rail Administration’s National Planning Effort

In 2008, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) authorized major passenger rail corridor programs and individual projects across the country. PRIIA also authorized funding to improve corridor passenger rail planning. FRA responded by providing principles and guidelines, as well as support for corridor plans and state rail plans.

In addition, in 2011, FRA initiated a national planning effort to develop a toolkit that supports conceptual planning of high-performance passenger rail at the regional level. This planning effort was aimed at developing a long-term, 40-year vision for building regional rail networks.  With the eventual goal of developing guidance for regional rail plans and determining their role in regards to State Rail Plans and Service Development Plans, this national planning effort helped define the elements of a regional rail plan.

The national planning effort was composed of two key parts:

  • A pilot regional rail plan; and
  • The development of a planning tool to aid in the determination of conceptual cost, ridership, and performance data for rail corridors and networks

To learn more about the Federal Rail Administration’s National Planning Effort you can visit the FRA’s National Rail Plan webpage, and the Regional Rail Planning webpage.


The Southwest Study

The pilot regional rail plan – the Southwest Study – focused on Arizona, California, and Nevada, with some limited engagement from Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. The study began in 2011 and a final report was completed in 2014. The Study was a test case to develop the guidelines, tools, and performance standards as required for the national planning effort.  Stakeholders from key transportation organizations in the Southwest worked through the challenges of developing a regional passenger rail plan and outlined a preliminary common vision for high-performance rail in the region.

To learn more, please download:


CONNECT Tool

The other output of the national planning effort was the CONNECT (“CONceptual NEtwork Connections Tool”) tool. CONNECT estimates – at a coarse, sketch-plan level – the relative impacts of alternative passenger rail network configurations and service plans on ridership, revenue, capital, operating, and maintenance costs, as well as the overall financial performance of each configuration.  Characteristics of the CONNECT Tool include:

  • High-level network analysis tool aimed at markets separated by at least 50 miles.
  • Suitable for sketch planning at the regional, multi-state level.
  • Intended for use at outset of conceptual passenger rail planning, before decisions on alignments, service plans, and station locations are made.
  • Can be used to reduce a wide range of options to a smaller subset of reasonable alternatives for more detailed study.
  • Relies on a nationwide trip table to derive demand for auto, air, and rail trips between all Metropolitan Statistical Areas and Micropolitan Statistical Areas in the United States.