Jeramey Jannene

A Brand for High-Speed Rail in the Midwest

By - May 13th, 2010 11:39 am
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It’s time for a clear brand for high-speed rail in the Midwest. The discussion surrounding the Milwaukee to Madison high-speed rail grant has made the need for a coherent brand clear with people confused if the new train will be a stand-alone route, somehow connected to the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail line, similar to the Amtrak Empire Builder, or a competitor to the existing Amtrak Hiawatha line.

As the likely operator for the Milwaukee to Madison extension of the Chicago to Milwaukee Amtrak Hiawatha Service, Amtrak is the likely brand for high-speed rail in the Midwest. If Amtrak is to be the brand for Midwest high-speed rail, it’s going to bring with it a lot of baggage, both good and bad.

What does the Amtrak brand represent?

Clearly, investing over a billion dollars in high-speed rail in the Midwest is worthy of having a brand absent of past baggage.

Thankfully, there is an established precedent for how to utilize Amtrak as the operator of a branded service. In the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak operates a multitude of services with the high-speed component being known exclusively as “Acela“. In the Northeast Corridor there isn’t brand confusion, there isn’t service confusion, Acela is high-speed rail, and high-speed rail is Acela.

The Midwest needs its own high-speed brand, and it needs one soon. Chicago is set to become a hub for two high-speed rail lines as soon as 2013, and it’s time for a brand to organize around. Grants have been awarded to implement 110mph high-speed rail service between Madison and Milwaukee as an extension of existing 79mph Hiawatha Service between Milwaukee and Chicago and to upgrade Lincoln Service from 79mph to 110mph between Chicago and St. Louis. If more grants are awarded, as the Obama administration indicates they may be, it’s very likely that one of those grants for another high-speed corridor would go to a route out of Chicago.

Keep the Hiawatha and Lincoln branding for individual routes, but it’s time to give an overreaching brand for high-speed rail based out of Chicago.

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9 thoughts on “A Brand for High-Speed Rail in the Midwest”

  1. SS says:

    Sounds to me like the Amtrak brand fits perfectly.

  2. Dave Reid says:

    See Jeramey I knew you wrote that one with @SS in mind:) funny.

  3. Nick Aster says:

    Very good thinking! Have you shared the idea with anyone in a decision making role? Frankly, I’d suggest the same brand for Wisconsin as the St. Louis one. Brings more people together, emphasizes that it’s part of a bigger system – that makes people realize it’s more useful than just a Milwaukee/Madison train – a lot of people really think that’s all it is.

    Acela is a really good name…. so is ICE in Germany. Key is to avoid cliches and make it modern. … I’ll have to think about this!

  4. Terrence Berres says:

    “The Midwest needs its own high-speed brand, and it needs one soon.”

    Midwest Express?

  5. Nick Aster says:

    It also occurred to me that we should stop referring to it as Madison-Milwaukee. It should be called Madison-Chicago, that will also draw more people in and emphasize the connections…

  6. Jeff Jordan says:

    As silly as it might sound, if Republic were interested in giving up the rights to the name, I would vote for Midwest Express for two reasons. Unlike a lot of names that sound cool but doesn’t tell you anything you need to know, Midwest Express works. And outside of some initial confusion, it will sink in to people what the brand represents.
    Number two, It allows for expansion. Right now you’re looking at St Louis, Milwaukee, Chicago, Madison and the Twin Cities. In the future you’ll want to add Green Bay, Lacrosse, and other smaller but necessary cities in other states.
    One of the attractions of this system is going to be the elimination of short haul feeder airlines and busses. The increased delivery of commuters to Mitchell from the north side of Chicago and eventually Madison and Green Bay is why this system will make sense, as it gets the pollution producing rubber wheels off of our highways and puts small aircraft on the ground by providing seamlessly integrated system for greater comfort, economy and efficiency in it’s place.

  7. Jeff says:

    Rather than just an extension of the Hiawatha, isn’t this the first leg in the Chicago-to-Minneapolis high-speed route? The focus, especially by local critics, has been on the local aspect of this, but the intent here is really much broader.

  8. nick says:

    sorry, but 110 mph isn’t “high speed” rail. this whole project is going to turn into a bit of a boondoggle in my opinion and sour American’s outlook on rail, of any speed.

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