Date of Award
Master of Science in Civil Engineering (MSCE)
Committee Member 1
Jon D. Fricker
Committee Member 2
Jane R. Frankenberger
Committee Member 3
Passenger rail service is an integral part of intercity transportation networks, especially in areas where residents do not have access to cars or other intercity travel options. Some municipalities in the U.S. have experienced a decline in passenger rail service in recent years, which has prompted schedule reductions and entire abandonment of service in some cases. To improve the current intercity passenger rail service predicament, two alternatives can be considered: (1) improve the rail service itself (frequency, infrastructure, etc.) and (2) improve accessibility to the rail stations, which might be cheaper and more cost-effective overall. Improvements in accessibility can impact a wider area and play a key role in passengers choosing rail service as their travel alternative. To address the above issues, the main objective of this thesis was to explore the possibilities for enhancing access to medium distance travel which is, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Services (BTS), between three to five hours or more than 50 miles of travel from home to the nearest intercity passenger rail station. The approach of this thesis was to identify the factors that affect mode choice and level of usage in order to subsequently evaluate different strategies for passengers to reach a station. The Hoosier State Train (HST), a short-distance intercity passenger rail system that travels between Chicago and Indianapolis four days a week, was chosen as a case study. HST has four intermediate stops in Indiana. For some of those intermediate stops, HST is the only intercity public transit service offered to reach either Chicago or Indianapolis. An HST on-board survey that explored opportunities to increase the HST ridership was conducted in November and December of 2016. The survey findings indicated that there are passengers who travel from counties farther away from a county with a station to take the train. Moreover, it was found that most of the respondents drove a personal vehicle, rented a car, or were dropped off to reach a train station in Indiana. The first and last mile (FMLM) of a trip is commonly used to describe passenger travel as far as getting to/from transit stops/stations. The findings of this thesis suggest that there is a gap in the FMLM for intercity rail passengers. Solving the FMLM problem would extend access to transportation systems and could increase the number of passengers from remote communities, such as rural areas. The FMLM problem has been addressed in different public transit contexts, mainly within urban areas; however, limited research efforts have been undertaken to examine the FMLM problem of intercity passenger rail. This thesis intends to fill this gap by exploring the best strategies to address the FMLM problem of short distance intercity passenger rail (i.e., corridors that are less than 750 miles long according to the Passenger Rail Improvement and Investment Act, 2008). Using the data collected on board the HST in Indiana, this thesis estimated a multi-attribute attitude model (MAM) to assess how transportation mode preferences for intercity travel are made and how the factors considered in mode choice decisions vary among individuals with different levels of access to an intercity passenger rail line. An ordered probit model was estimated to further investigate how passenger characteristics, as well as the factors associated with both access to a rail station and mode choice decisions, relate to the frequency of travel by intercity rail. This thesis also presents the results of an accessibility analysis conducted for the state of Indiana in order to identify the areas in need of FMLM service where no public transportation services exist and the cost of reaching a station from a desired origin is expensive. To that end, a cost survey for the different modes available was conducted to determine the average travel cost to the nearest station. The analysis was carried out in ArcGIS using origin-destination information from the on-board survey, transportation network information from the U.S. BTS, and general transit feed specification data.
The results of this thesis can assist Amtrak and state transportation agencies identify which aspects of rail service potentially can be enhanced to attract more passengers as well as promote the use of intercity passenger rail service in the U.S. Additionally, the findings could have extensive implications for planning strategies to provide access to passenger rail stations. While the inferences in this thesis are case-study specific for Indiana, the proposed methodology could be used to identify areas where accessibility can be improved in other U.S. states or countries with similar characteristics.
Losada Rojas, Lisa Lorena, "Assessing the First and Last Mile Problem in Intercity Passenger Rail: Effects on Mode Choice and Trip Frequency" (2017). Open Access Theses. 1303.