Under the proposal, which involves upgrading the existing CSX route, the line would be served by 12 passenger trains per day, including at least six fast services. With modern diesel trains operating at speeds of up to 177km/h, the journey time for the 483km trip between Chicago and Columbus would be 3h 45min for express services and four hours for stopping trains.
Track and safety improvements in a potential future phase would support operation at up to 209km/h, trimming the and a Chicago – Columbus express time to just 3h 20min.
The business plan, which includes evaluation and modelling of service scenarios, operating strategies, fare structures, ridership and revenue forecasts, operating and capital costs and financing and funding arrangements, was conducted by Transportation Economics and Management Systems (TEMS), United States. TEMS has previously conducted the economic analysis for the nine-state Midwestern Regional Rail Initiative (2007) and for the Ohio and Lake Erie Regional Rail (Ohio Hub) Study (2007) for the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan and New York.
The total cost of the scheme will be around $US 1.29bn, 79% of which will be for track, signalling, and stations, with the remaining 21% covering rolling stock and facilities.
The project is expected to generate economic benefits worth $US 6.2bn over 30 years, with a benefit-cost ratio of 1.71. The analysis also indicates that private operation would be possible without government subsidies, and the service is expected to carry more than two million passengers per year within two years of the start of operations.
At the end of 2012, the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission reported that ridership on Amtrak corridor services in the Midwest once again experienced record growth during the 2012 financial year. Total ridership on the nine routes grew by 3.5% over the previous year; during the past five years, corridor service ridership in the Midwest has risen 35 percent.
With a population of 1.9 million, the Columbus metropolitan area is currently the largest in the United States not currently served by any form of passenger rail. Fort Wayne, located midway between Columbus and Chicago, is the largest city in Indiana without a passenger service. Columbus is the 15th-largest US city and Chicago is the third-largest.
The next step for the project is a Tier One Environmental Impact Study, for which the corridor cities are now studying funding options.