Assessing Public Transportation Options for Intercity Travel in U.S. Rural and Small Urban Areas: A Multimodal, Multiobjective, and People-Oriented Evaluation

Vasiliki Dimitra Pyrialakou, Purdue University


The transportation needs and available resources of rural and small urban areas differ from those of larger urban areas. In the U.S., the accessibility and connectivity of such areas rely heavily on the highway system and, consequently, on personal automobile use. Transportation infrastructure and services are unevenly distributed in space, and thus accessibility levels are expected to differ across areas. As a result, individuals have different mobility levels depending on where they live, work, and travel. However, physically, financially, or socially disadvantaged individuals typically suffer the impacts of an automobile-oriented community disproportionally, experiencing higher transportation costs and enjoying fewer benefits. The U.S. literature on rural transportation is limited, but planners, policy makers, and researchers have been engaging in an ongoing discussion on rural transport challenges and transport networks. Much of the recent discussion has focused on intercity and/or interregional travel. Intercity bus and passenger rail services have decreased over the past decade, and today many rural and small urban communities have no intercity passenger transport options. Passenger rail can help provide these intercity transportation options and mitigate rural transport disadvantage. Studies suggest that passenger rail growth can bring regional economic benefits, mobility and accessibility improvements, and other social benefits. In the U.S., a nationwide passenger rail and high-speed rail (HSR) network has been suggested as a promising passenger transport solution, and a number of rail corridors have been planned or considered for development. This dissertation work stemmed from a need for public transportation research regarding rural and small urban areas and focuses on assessing public transportation options for intercity travel in these areas. Three research questions are addressed: 1. Is investment in public transportation in U.S. rural and small urban communities crucial to reaching the communities’ long- and short-term goals, and is this investment viable in light of key issues relevant to the communities? 2. Is passenger rail and/or HSR the most advantageous public transportation mode in such areas? 3. What conditions should be fostered and how can these conditions be encouraged to promote the development and use of passenger rail/HSR? To address these topics, a three-part research framework was developed that involves assessing transport disadvantage in an area, evaluating the existing transportation modes, and investigating the potential for a ridership increase that can further support the improvement and expansion of public transportation systems. To illustrate this framework, the case study of Indiana and the Hoosier State line, a short-distance corridor operating four days per week between Indianapolis and Chicago, was used. The developed research framework was found to be especially suited to evaluating short-distance rail corridors and competing modes along the line that connect medium/small urban and/or rural communities. However, the principles may be used to evaluate a broader system. Other methodological contributions include the design of a comprehensive approach to assess transport disadvantage in U.S. rural and small urban areas and the development and testing of a theoretical model to explore public attitudes towards passenger rail. This dissertation provides a well-documented, practice-ready, and easy-to-use framework that can support planning and policy decisions at the community or state level and the supply decisions of transportation providers while contributing to the evaluation of passenger rail systems proposed in the U.S. The framework is easily replicable and accounts for the availability of data and resources. In terms of empirical contributions, recent developments regarding the Hoosier State train provided an opportunity to address a timely topic for Indiana, the Midwest, and the U.S. This dissertation’s findings can assist stakeholders involved with shaping the future of the Hoosier State train and Indiana’s passenger rail system. The findings can also help evaluate passenger rail and HSR systems that have been proposed, informing future plans for the development of those systems in Indiana and the Midwest.




GKRITZA, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Civil engineering|Transportation planning

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