Midwest Regional Rail Initiative


In 1996, nine Midwestern state DOTs began working together to develop a 3,000-mile regional high-speed passenger rail system. When fully implemented, the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI) plan will dramatically increase passenger rail service and significantly decrease trip times. With Chicago serving as the system’s hub, about 90 percent of the Midwest's population will be within a one-hour car ride to a Midwest Regional Rail System station and/or 30 minutes of a feeder bus station.

The MWRRI’s basic tenets were updated and expanded in 2021 by the Federal Railroad Administration’s Midwest Regional Rail Plan (MWRRP), which was conducted at MIPRC’s suggestion and with the MWRRI steering committee’s support. Now, while build-out of the MWRRI is continuing (see below), MIPRC, its member state DOTs and Amtrak plan to further refine and expand the MWRRP, continuing to build on the MWRRI as the cornerstone.

In Spring 2020, Midwestern states had almost 30 intercity passenger rail projects, totaling more than $2 billion, ready for federal funding matches within the lifespan of what then was the next surface transportation reauthorization law (see the full list here). Those projects are now in line to be funded by the FAST Act’s successor, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021. (See more information on the IIJA here.)

MWRRI Historical Information & Documents

States implemented the initial phases of the MWRRI plan through the first-ever state/federal funding partnership made possible through the enactment of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) of 2008 and the subsequent development of the federal High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail grant program. Implementation continued through state planning and funding, and ongoing federal funding for passenger rail projects made available through the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act while it was in effect during federal fiscal years 2016-2020.

Midwestern states applied for and won awards in almost every grant cycle during the life of the FAST Act. See our comprehensive list here.

The MWRRI steering committee last updated the region's plans in the fall of 2004. MIPRC in 2015 proposed updating the Midwest's plans, and in 2015 initiated a 5-year project with the Federal Railroad Administration on a 40-year vision for the region, building off the planning and implementation of the MWRRI. The result, the Midwest Regional Rail Plan, was released by MIPRC and the FRA in October 2021.

The 2004 comprehensive update of the plan included:

I.    Updated capital and equipment cost estimates;
II.    Updated and refined MWRRI feeder bus system recommendations;
III.    Updated MWRRI plan ridership and revenue forecasts;
IV.    Updated operating cost estimates; and
V.    An updated operating plan and proposed schedules.

Since MIPRC’s inception, it has been a primary proponent of the MWRRI, educating and advocating for the federal funding necessary to build out the MWRRS. MIPRC also developed a 4-page pamphlet on the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative — highlighting the benefits of passenger rail to the region, what specific benefits the MWRRI will bring, and the critical need for a dedicated source of federal funding to see this project move forward.

In 2007, the MWRRI updated its economic benefits analysis. The new projections found a benefit-to-cost ratio of 1.8 ($1.80 in return for every dollar invested) – one of the highest for any regional system in the U.S. In addition to generating $23 billion in overall benefits, full build out of the Midwest Regional Rail System will generate nearly 58,000 permanent new jobs and $5.3 billion of increased earnings over the construction period.

Economic Impacts of the Midwest Regional Rail System (2007)

State economic impact brochures (2007)

Other resources about the MWRRS:
    Midwest Regional Rail System report (September 2004)
    Midwest Regional Rail System:  A Transportation Network for the 21st Century (2000) 

Secretariat services provided by The Council Of State Governments' Midwestern Office.