Interstate High Speed Rail Competitors
Throughout human history, increasing travel speed or decreasing travel time has been important to economic growth. America’s Global Economic Competitors are rapidly building High Speed Rail systems for more productive and comfortable use of time by business and leisure patrons traveling intercity corridors from one central business district to another. Upon train arrival at intermodal transportation centers in cities, comprehensive options for rapid transit, greener buses, greener Taxis, Uber/Lyft and bicycle paths complete their journeys for additional economic, environmental, health and safety benefits to those nations. In global economic competition, America can’t afford to stand on the sidelines as this mega-trend unfolds.
Global Economic Competitors in Asia and Europe have transitioned from the Industrial Age of blue-collar workers to the Information-Service Age featuring mobile-knowledge-workers. The productive use of mobile-knowledge-worker time impacts a nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as much as freight shipments by truck, rail and boat. For mobile-knowledge-workers, their most precious asset is time. They need to utilize time in each transportation mode more productively for business. Leisure travelers also crave more comfortable use of time.
As the chart above indicates, High Speed Rail (HSR) is the only mode optimized for 125-525 mile travel, the sweet spot between planes and rapid transit or intercity buses. High Speed Trains (HST) on HSR prevent airports mode from overloading with 125-525 mile regional flights. France and Spain are also proving that when fares are cheap enough, HSR puts a major dent in 125-525 mile drives too.
Intercity Passenger Rail Categories
Lets examine a “Cliff Notes” version of intercity passenger railroading categories to understand the benefits our Global Economic Competitors are reaping. Most Odd-numbered miles per hour (mph) above 100 mph are conversions from Even-numbered kilometers per hour (kph) used in High Speed Rail countries outside America:
69-90 mph Routes: Mostly Slow Zones; use diesel-powered trains; 1-4 daily intercity passenger trains on routes shared with infrequent commuter and freight trains; 60-65% on-time performance
99-118 mph Routes: Fewer Slow Zones; use diesel, natural gas, biofuel or electric-powered trains; 6-16 daily intercity passenger train routes shared with frequent commuter trains and infrequent freight trains; 70-80% on-time performance; USDOT calls these routes, “Emerging HSR”
124-125 mph Routes: Fewer Slow Zones; use diesel, natural gas, biofuel or electric-powered trains; 8-12 daily intercity passenger train routes shared with frequent commuter trains and infrequent freight trains; 80-85% on-time performance; only USDOT calls these routes, “HSR”
135-149 mph Routes: Few Slow Zones; use electric-powered High Speed Trains (HST); 16-24 daily intercity passenger trains; countries permit fast commuter trains to share the route during daytime and freight trains after passenger service ends late night; 90-92% on-time performance; routes completely separated from roadways
155-174 mph Routes: Rare Slow Zones, less curvy tracks for electric-powered HST; 16-36 daily intercity passenger trains; a few countries permit fast commuter trains to share these routes in daytime and light-weight freight trains after passenger service ends late night; 92-95% on-time performance; routes completely separated from roadways
186-199 mph Routes: Straiter HSR-only tracks for electric-powered, more aerodynamic HST; 16-64 daily intercity passenger trains; a few countries permit light weight freight trains after passenger service ends; 97-99% on-time performance; routes completely separated from roadways
205-224 mph Routes: Very Strait HSR-only tracks for electric-powered, very aerodynamic, lighter weight HST; it typically has stops at least 70 miles apart; 16-64 daily intercity passenger trains; 98-99.5% on-time performance; routes completely separated from roadways
The International Union of Railways (UIC) considers 155 mph (250 kph) to be the baseline for modern HSR. The UIC also recognizes exceptions down to 137 mph (220 kph) for routes that are grade-separated from roadways, but too exorbitant to straighten because they don’t generate sufficient patronage increase to justify the cost to straighten. That exception seems to have been created for several lines in France, that terminate in small cities.
Construction cost for 186+ mph rail routes is about 5 times that of 79-90 mph rail routes. Yet when HSR routes are upgraded, they attract more business travelers who pay fare premiums for shorter travel times, dependability, comfort and direct center city access. Business travel revenue enabled major airlines to invest in nextgen planes, airport terminals and offer lower coach fares. Business travel revenue can enable HST operators to invest in nextgen trains, Intermodal Transportation Centers and offer lower coach fares.
For a more comprehensive look at railroading categories, examine this taxonomy of route speeds, train power sources, train frequencies, punctuality, passenger capacities and MagLev trains.
Big Carrots For Nations Building Intercity High Speed Rail Networks
HSR networks are evolving to higher speeds in response to intercity business travelers who need sub-3.5 hours travel times between city-pair Central Business Districts. Outside America, HSR systems are anchored by 155+ mph HSR lines. Outside America, HSR network mileage is relatively proportionate with a nation’s land size, corridor population density and Gross Domestic Product (GDP $) to reap these major benefits (“Big Carrots”) in the Information-Service Era:
1. HSR is more productive travel time because it has fewer schedule delays, less time through security, less board/unboard time, electric outlets and dependable WiFi in every seat; On Acela and in Europe, HSR is more comfortable because Coach Class seating hip & legroom is like Business Class hip & leg-room on airplanes, and you can freely walk around the train cabin.
2. HSR mitigates highway congestion by cutting demand for single-occupant driving over 125 miles. As a result, HSR cuts demand for highway expansion that would cost taxpayers more to build & maintain.
3. HSR cuts demand for flights under 500 miles in the same corridor. As a result, HSR enables airlines to focus on their best economic use of airports — flights over 500 miles.
4. HSR increases passenger capacity cheaper than highways and airports because it can quickly be add more trains per hour, more cabins to each trainset and for some routes, double-decker cabins.
5. Since HSR is electric-powered, it reduces Smog and Green House Gas. These benefits grow as Wind, Solar and Bio-fuel join natural gas replacing coal in power plants.
6. Since HSR is electric-powered, it reduces trade deficits by importing less oil for transportation energy. China cites this factor in its justification to build HSR and Rapid Transit systems faster.
7. HSR produces thousands-to-tens of thousands jobs per route.
8. After the first HSR route in a high-traffic corridor is operational 5-8 years, HSR systems attract private investment to help cover system expansion and/or pay access fees to run on their tracks.
9. When Intermodal Transportation Centers in cities are anchored by HSR, Rapid Transit, Shuttles, Buses and Bicycle access, they attract shopping mall, office, residential and hotel development with less demand for parking garage space.
10. Several Global Economic Competitors have developed billion dollar companies employing thousands of people that build HSR trains & parts for their nation and others.
In the video below, glimpse at how one company makes money selling HSR consulting & operational services, while also hosting a shopping mall in Europe’s largest Intermodal Transportation Center.
Big Sticks For Not Building Intercity High Speed Rail Networks
There’s also “Big Stick” reasons that explain why America needs High Speed Rail. The first is that America’s intercity passenger rail has fallen way behind Global Economic Competitors. Excluding a small chunk of the Washington-NYC-Boston corridor, we are missing the best 125-500 mile intercity transportation mode at our economic peril.
Throughout history, transportation advantages have translated to larger economic growth for cities and nations. Prior to 1825, New York City, Philadelphia and Boston were close in population size and economic scale. Then Erie Canal opened, enabling New York City to enjoy larger, faster, cheaper commodity trade volume with the Midwest than Philadelphia and Boston. Soon afterwards, New York City dwarfed Philadelphia and Boston in economic importance and population size. New York City extended its transportation productivity advantage over other American cities by building the the world’s largest 24-hour Metrorail system from 1904 to 2010.
In 1811, England pioneered the first practical train service. In 1863, London built the world’s first subway system. Both transportation productivity breakthroughs enabled England’s economy to grow faster and larger than others in Europe by reducing costs and delays to transport goods and passengers. In fact, London’s economy was larger than New York City’s until World War I.
Even in the Information-Service Age, face-to-face business meetings and leisure travel are crucial to economic activity. Keep that in mind as you consider how Global Economic Competitors are expanding, modernizing and optimizing passenger and freight transportation modes to their best utility.
Global Economic Competitor Completing HSR Network By 2022: JAPAN
Japan fits half the population of America in area the size of California. Being a country with little oil since 1932 and mountainous island terrain that forced population density in its flatlands, Japan was compelled to address a future transportation mode sooner than everyone else.
After World War II, Japan built nuclear power plants for plentiful electricity to re-power its industries and expanded Metrorail and Trams (Light Rail) in its large cities. Japan launched the world’s first electric-powered 130 mph Shinkansen service during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Though Japan’s intercity tollway system is well-maintained and comprehensive, it is priced and limited to 62-mph to discourage single and double-occupant driving. Today, the combination of Tokyo’s two Metrorail systems handle the most rapid transit passengers in the world and Osaka Metrorail system is one of the world’s 15 busiest. Nearly everyone rides Shinkansen HSR between Tokyo and Osaka. With Metrorail, Trams and buses feeding train stations, Shinkansen has transported over 6 billion passengers through earthquake and typhoon country with zero fatalities and astonishing schedule dependability — as low as 6 seconds annual delay on one line. In 2018, Shinkansen HSR Network has grown to 1718 miles with one 199 mph line, one 186 mph line, one 177 mph line, one 174 mph line, four 162 mph lines and one 149 mph line. Given the combination of Shinkansen, Metrorail & tram systems, high tollway prices, and high gasoline prices, only 30% of Japanese ride the National Tollway System, while its major airports concentrate on longer distance flights.
By 2023, Shinkansen expands to 2141 miles and nextgen HST will is planned to reach 211 mph on some lines. By 2030, Shinkansen will blanket the nation with 149-211 mph service. Unburdened by short regional flights, Japanese airports are optimized for flights of 500 miles and longer. Japan will mostly have electric & electric-hybrid cars and greener biofuel buses on its roadways. It will balance nextgen nuclear power plants and renewable energy to compensate for the decline of coal-based power plants. Japan will seamlessly connect International Airports, HSR, Rapid Transit, Green Buses and Tollway-Freeway systems in an optimized Intermodal Passenger Transportation Network that imports far less oil.
Global Economic Competitor Completing HSR Network By 2022: SOUTH KOREA
In 2004, South Korea opened its first HSR line between Seoul and Busan. Its HSR network has grown to 687 miles featuring two high speed-only 186-205 mph lines, one 155 mph line and two 143 mph lines. By 2020, the South Korean HSR network expands to 763 miles, with seven new or upgraded 155 mph lines and three 143 mph lines.
By 2022, Korean engineers should complete train and overhead wire upgrades for the most popular route to reach 217 mph. South Korea will seamlessly connect International Airports, HSR, Rapid Transit, Green Buses and Tollway-Freeway systems in an optimized Intermodal Passenger Transportation Network that imports far less oil.
Global Economic Competitor Completing HSR Network By 2032: EUROPEAN UNION
Italy In 1979, Italy TAV opened Europe’s first 155 mph line for intercity passenger service. In 2013, Italy started running Very High Speed Trains, the French-built AGV quickly and the Canadian-built Zefiro. Both trains are certified to operate at 224-236 mph, but are limited to 186 mph in the Milan-Bologna-Florence-Rome-Naples-Salerno corridor until the route is upgraded. In 2018, Italy’s TAV Network has grown to 605 miles containing four 186 mph lines and one 155 mph line.
By 2023, Italy TAV Network grows to 693 miles and many route upgrades complete. Some trains are anticipated to reach 211-217 mph and there will be 155 mph tunnel extensions to Switzerland and Germany. By 2030-33, major cities in Italy will connect via 155-217 mph HSR service. By 2033-35, 155 mph tunnel extensions to France and Austria are planned to open as well.
France In 1981, the world took notice of 162 mph TGV connecting Paris and Lyon. In 2018, the 1694-mile French HSR system reaches 199 mph on seven lines, 186 mph on 6 lines and 137 mph on several other lines. Paris, Lyon, Marseilles, Lille and Le Mans expanded Metrorail and Trams lines and Bicycle paths that feed patrons to TGV stations. Other French cities also orient Trams and Bicycle paths around their HSR stations. Now French HSR lines transport over 115 million annual passengers and 85% of the French ride HSR.
Wheels and catenary are becoming more durable and nextgen HST to come in 2021-22, are being certified for 248 mph commercial operation. A standard industry practice is to operate HST at 90% of the certified speed, reserving additional speed for emergencies. Hence, the French anticipate nextgen HST operating at 224 mph on select lines, as their HSR Network expands to 2078 miles by 2024. For maintenance and energy cost reasons that lower profit, some analysts project that top speed will limit speed to 217 mph. That would still shrink travel time from Paris to Amsterdam, Frankfort, Marseilles and Barcelona by 30-40 minutes round-trip. By 2030, France will likely have 2500 HSR miles providing 136-217 mph service to every populous corridor in the nation and to Belgium, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Switzerland. By 2033, a French tunnel under the Alps should open, adding Paris-Lyon-Torino-Milan HSR service as well.
In 1994, Eurostar HSR was introduced between France, Belgium and United Kingdom. Eurostar tracks on the France and Belgium side supported 186 mph trains from Day 1. Eurostar tracks on the UK side were upgraded to support 186 mph trains in 2007, shortening travel time between Paris-London to 2 hours 4 minutes and 1 hour 43 minutes between London-Brussels. As a result, 95% of travel between those three cities is by Eurostar. In 2017, Eurostar added 199 mph train service for 1 hour 49 minute London-Paris travel time and 1 hour 31 minute London-Brussels travel time. By shaving 30 minutes off round-trip travel time, more French, Dutch and British businesspersons conduct day-trips.
Spain In 1992, Spain AVE Network opened its first 186 mph HSR route between Madrid and Seville. AVE trains now reach 199 mph between Madrid and Barcelona. Spain and France have a southern HSR crossover where trains operating right-hand-side in Spain use a border flyover track to operate left-hand-side, the standard in France. Hence, there are no more border stops for train changes. By receiving more EU transportation funds, its HSR Network has grown disproportionately faster than all other European nations. In 2018, Spain AVE Network reached 2010 miles.
Spanish government views the transformational importance of AVE Network the same way we think of Interstate Highway System. By 2024, Spain will have a HSR network whose stations are within 31 miles (50 km) for 90% of its population. Spain also seems determined to match the top operational speed of TGV network. By 2030, Spain’s goal is to blanket its nation with 3045 HSR miles featuring 155-217 mph service to 90% of Spaniards.
Germany In 1991, Germany introduced 125 mph InterCity Express (ICE) service in one route. By 2018, ICE Network expanded spiderweb-like to 1889 miles via new construction and upgrade to four 186 mph lines, two 168 mph lines, six 155 mph lines, one 143 mph line and many other 124 mph lines. That includes 155 mph lines to France and Switzerland.
By 2023, ICE Network is slated for 2093 miles, with a couple lines reaching 205 mph. By 2032, most ICE Network will run up to 155-205 mph between the major German cities Frankfurt, Mannheim, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Hannover, Berlin, Leipzig, Stuttgart, Wurzburg, Nurnberg and Munich. The 2030 goal is to shrink all ICE travel times within Germany to 3 hours or less, enable 199 mph connections to France, plus 155-186 mph connections to Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria.
Belgium & Netherlands These small Dutch countries have built 417 miles of high speed rail via three 186 mph lines and one 155 mph. Though relatively short in mileage, they enable a 3 hour 13 minute Paris-Lille-Brussels-Rotterdam-Amsterdam travel time and a 3 hour 19 minute London-Lille-Brussels-Rotterdam-Amsterdam travel time.
United Kingdom Compared to most of Western Europe, UK brings up the rear. It has one 186 mph route shared by 186 mph Eurostar and 143 mph Javelin, plus four 124 mph routes. Buoyed by the success of Eurostar however, the UK is building a 217 mph London-Birmingham HSR route expected to open by 2026. London-Manchester corridor is slated to open 217 mph service by 2032. Virgin Airlines wants to pay the UK government to operate HST in the new routes.
Shared technology standards and best practices have enabled a European Union (EU) HSR network that already links 70 major cities. EU nations are expanding rapid transit systems simultaneous with HSR expansion — 37 EU airports feature HSR-Metrorail stations. The Eurail Pass enabling discounted travel prices, is becoming more attractive each year as HSR routes expand to Austria, Denmark, Czech Republic, Poland, Norway, Finland and Sweden. Switzerland has recently built three passenger rail tunnels through the Alps that support 124-155 mph. Private companies are paying large license fees to run their HST on routes, which helps fund HSR system expansion. Anchored by international train orders, Alstom (France), Japan Central Railway, Siemens (Germany) and Talgo (Spain) companies have grown to multi-billion dollar size, like major airlines.
By 2030, most 106-124 mph (grey & yellow) routes on the Western Europe HSR Map will become 137-217 mph routes. Western Europe will have 19,000 HSR miles to 100+ cities. By 2033, Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany and Austria will open enough high speed tunnels to shrink current 4-6 hour train rides through the Alps down to 2-3 hours. The EU is also adding more tollway charging stations for electric cars and adopting biofuel standards for new freight trucks, freight trains and ships. Renewable and nuclear energy will source most EU electric power. EU Airports, HSR, Metrorail and Tollway-Freeway systems will interconnect the world’s 2nd biggest Intermodal Passenger Transportation Network, while having the least dependency on oil and coal power.
Global Economic Competitor Completing HSR Network By 2025-30: CHINA
In 1993, China was an emerging economy with passenger trains averaging 30 mph and most citizens riding bicycles. By 2017, China was the world’s second largest economy. Their rapid economic growth and form of government allows more Imminent Domain land-takings and job assignment to build massive electric-transportation systems faster and cheaper than democratic nations. In 2018, China has built 15,534 HSR miles. They connect to new Metrorail systems of 30 cities. As a result, China grew from 7 million train passengers in 2008 to well over 1 billion train passengers in 2017.
China will continue investing $100 billion/year to reach a staggering 22,000 HSR miles by 2025. China’s HSR network allows them to optimize airports for 500+ mile flights and expand an intercity tollway-freeway system that economically discourages single-occupant drives. Moreover, China government encourages citizens to buy electric vehicles. It is building solar & wind power faster than any other nation.
By 2030, China’s International Airports, HSR, Rapid Transit and Tollways-Freeway systems will interconnect the world’s biggest Intermodal Passenger Transportation Network and draw 20% of its energy from renewable sources, while cutting coal usage. China also plans to anchor a Trans-Asia HSR Network spreading to India, Southeast Asia, Russia and Turkey.
American HSR Lags Behind The Pack
By International Union of Railways standards, America’s 457-mile Northeast Corridor has only 34 miles of 150 mph service between Boston and eastern Connecticut. In 2020, 23 miles of track between New Brunswick and Trenton will enable 160 mph using current Acela trainsets and up to 200 mph using trainsets to arrive in 2021. By then, we will have only to 57 miles of track miles capable of 150-200 mph, and another 90 miles or so capable of 135 mph. Its shameful compared to the overwhelming HSR mileage by Global Economic Competitors.
At $19.5 Trillion GDP, America has the world’s largest economy and America has $60K GDP Per Capita compared to Germany at $44K Per Capita, UK at $39K Per Capita and France at $38K Per Capita, whose democratic capitalists societies are similar to ours. America’s topography and rail corridor densities are like a combination of Germany and France. Since we can save costs by upgrading a large portion of 22,000 Amtrak corridor miles, we can surely afford 6 times more HSR mileage than France operates at a profit.
SUMMARY: Global Economic Competitor Transportation Advantages Over America
Last century, America enjoyed cheap oil & gas and advanced manufacturing assisted by the world’s best airport, seaport and surface transportation network to transport passengers and products. That infrastructure enabled us to close more business transactions, expanding our economy larger than Global Economic Competitors. Now the table has turned.
The advanced manufacturing, seaport & aviation infrastructure of Global Economic Competitors matches ours. Their highway infrastructure is as comprehensive as our Interstate Highway, but mostly narrower Tollways for better maintenance and to discourage single-occupant car driving. As each HSR route opens in a corridor, fewer freight trucks are stuck in intercity highway congestion. By moving passengers to new HSR-only tracks, they are freeing up slow-speed track capacity to improve freight rail and lower shipping costs. The EU and China are racing to build a Freight Rail networks that match ours by 2035 or so.
Our Global Economic Competitors are growing their Information-Service economies too. By shrinking 3-6 hour train rides to 1.5-3 hour rides, they conduct more business activity per hour on HSR and attract more leisure travelers. Their popular Rapid Transit systems reduce the percentage of citizens caught in productivity-draining traffic jams, while preserving the freedom to drive.
Excluding 2009-10, America has never invested enough on High Speed Rail like Europe and Japan. Nor did we convert more Streetcar routes to Metrorail when it would have been cheap. Since the early 1990s, we have under-maintained highway bridges. By letting surface transportation advantages wilt away, America sits in growing traffic jams and cross more structurally-deficient bridges.
In Part 3, we examine another layer of rationale to build HSR and Rapid Transit networks faster worldwide, placed in the context of why America has not.