A Brand for High-Speed Rail in the Midwest
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?
- Cross-country, slow travel on the rails.
- Inter-city commuter service on routes similar to the soon-to-be upgraded runs between Milwaukee and Chicago and Chicago and St. Louis.
- A money pit
- An essential piece of the transportation infrastructure to others.
- A dying, legacy system that barely anyone rides.
- A growing system that if it were an airline would be the 8th largest in terms of passengers.
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.