Getting State Rail Plans Back on Track: Gaps and Best Practices

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MTI researchers identify state rail planning best practices, including the need to develop State and Regional Rail Advisory Bodies
August 25, 2021
San José, CA

According to observations from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) staff, the California State Rail Plan (CSRP) is considered to be among the best rail plan documents published by any jurisdiction in the United States to date (and Illinois High-Speed Rail recently released a statement noting that IL aspires to produce a plan similar to the 2018 CA plan). As such, Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) researchers used the CSRP as the basis of comparison to state rail service plans for all 50 states. Their research, A Model for Integrating Rail Services with Other Transportation Modalities: Identifying the Best Practices and the Gaps for California’s Next State Rail Plan, identifies the best practices and gaps that may inform California and other states in their future rail service plan development.

The state plans examined in this research were those submitted to the FRA as of June 2020—and as required under Section 303 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) of 2008. The research steps included outlining the elements of FRA’s 2013 state rail plan guidance; identifying and reviewing other sources of rail plans—including state rail plans from Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington state—summarizing, comparing, and evaluating innovative practices of these plans; and preparing commentary and analysis identifying improvements that California and other states could make in preparing and submitting future rail service plans.

Based on the analysis of state rail plans, as well as academic discussion of state rail planning, the following recommendations are offered:

“We found academic literature regarding optimal, state-level rail applications were consistent with the FRA’s state rail plan guidance. A review of each state rail plan from across the county reflected differing attitudes, realities, and needs related to rail networks from state to state—identifying unique connections to their region, but also displaying lower levels of engagement in proficient rail planning,” said the study’s coauthor Dr. Wenbin Wei. 

Most states share common goals—including improving the safety of their transportation systems. These goals also include the improvement of their transportation systems to stimulate, support, and enhance the movement of goods to ensure a prosperous economy. Moving forward, interstate and international collaborations will prove critical to these aspirations. Goals and plans will continue to evolve into the future, and though there is still a considerable amount of work to be done, research and implementation of plans can improve safety, efficiency, and more when it comes to rail and all transportation.


At the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University (SJSU) our mission is to increase mobility for all by improving the safety, efficiency, accessibility, and convenience of our nations’ transportation system. Through research, education, workforce development and technology transfer, we help create a connected world. Founded in 1991, MTI is funded through the US Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants, including those made available by the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (SB1). MTI is affiliated with SJSU’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business.

Eric C. Peterson
is an MTI Research Associate and transportation policy advisor currently addressing infrastructure funding and finance, public transportation, and intercity and high-speed passenger rail issues.
Dr. Wenbin Wei is an MTI Research Associate and Professor in the Department of Aviation and Technology in the College of Engineering at San Jose State University. He has a Ph.D. from University of California at Berkeley in Transportation Engineering and Management.
Lydon George is a recent graduate from the Master of Urban and Regional Planning program at San José State University, focusing on improving public and active transportation systems, racial and social equity, and cultural enrichment in planning.


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