Interstate High Speed Rail Competitors
Throughout history decreasing travel time has been important to economic growth. Since the 1990s, America’s Global Economic Competitors have committed to building Complete Passenger Transportation Systems with world-class HSR, Airports, Highways, Rapid Transit, Busways, Taxis/Shared Rides and Bikeways. Since the 1992 Kyoto Protocol to combat Climate Change, more nations are emphasizing HSR, Rapid Transit and Bikeway as well. In the 21st century, when efficient passenger transportation, global economic competition and combating Climate Change are so critical, America can’t afford to lag behind as these mega-trends unfold.
Global Economic Competitors in Asia and Europe have transitioned from the Industrial Age of blue-collar workers to the Information Age featuring knowledge workers who need data on the move. The shortening and productive use of knowledge workers’ travel time impacts a nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as much as efficient freight shipments by truck, rail and boat.
Knowledge workers are responsible for increasingly larger parts of the 21st century economy. Their most precious asset is time. They need to both shorten travel time and utilize travel time in each transportation mode more productively and safely. Leisure travelers also crave more comfortable travel time. As the chart above indicates, High Speed Rail (HSR) is the only passenger transportation mode optimized for 100-500 mile travel. Over that mileage range, it is optimized for shortest, most productive, safest and most comfortable travel of any passenger transportation mode. HSR systems reduce airport expansion caused by too many 100-500 mile (regional) flights in a corridor. Excluding 105 miles in Washington-NYC corridor and 34 miles in Boston-Eastern Connecticut corridor, America is missing the best passenger transportation mode for 100-500 mile travel in its populous mega-regions.
Wind & solar-powered electricity is getting significantly cheaper than coal-powered electricity, along with its clean air benefits. Batteries are getting more powerful too. Those factors make HSR and Rapid Transit more valuable each year.
Intercity Passenger Rail Categories
Lets examine a “Cliff Notes” version of intercity passenger rail 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:
79-90 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”
124-137 mph Routes: Fewer Slow Zones; use diesel, natural gas, biofuel or electric-powered trains; 12-20 daily intercity passenger train routes shared with frequent commuter trains and infrequent freight trains; 85-89% on-time performance; routes completely separated from roadways; this speed range was the old standard for HSR
143-150 mph Routes: Few Slow Zones; use electric-powered High Speed Trains (HST); 16-32 daily intercity passenger trains; countries often 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 aerodynamic HST; 20-36 daily intercity passenger trains; a few countries permit fast commuter trains to share these routes in daytime and light freight trains after passenger service late night; 92-95% on-time performance; routes completely separated from roadways
186-224 mph Routes: Straiter HSR-only tracks for electric-powered very aerodynamic HST; routes completely separated from roadways; 20-64 daily intercity passenger trains; a few countries permit light weight freight trains on them after passenger service ends; 95-99.8% on-time performance; some trains has 1200 passenger capacity equals that two Airbus A380 jets
Construction cost for 186 mph routes is about 5 times that of 79 mph routes. Yet when HSR routes are upgraded to 186 mph, they attract an order of magnitude more business patrons who pay fare premiums for shorter travel times, frequent trains, higher on-time performance, more comfort and direct CBD access. Business patron revenue enabled major airlines to purchase new airplanes, build amenities in airport terminals and offer lower coach fares. Business patron revenue enables HST operators to purchase nextgen trains, build amenities in Intermodal Transportation Centers and offer lower coach fares.
The International Union of Railways (UIC) states that 155 mph (250 kph) as the Minimum Sustained Speed in commercial operation for an HSR line. UIC maps also recognize popular 137-149 mph (220-240 kph) routes, that will likely receive HSR upgrade when funding permits. For a comprehensive look at railroading categories, examine this taxonomy of route speeds, train power sources, train frequencies, punctuality, and passenger capacities.
Big Benefits For Nations Building Intercity High Speed Rail Networks
Outside America, HSR systems are anchored by 155-217 mph HSR lines. They are building HSR mileage proportionate to corridor population density and their nation’s economic ability and priorities to reap these benefits in the Information Age:
1. Congestion Relief: At 4 trainsets per hour, one HSR trainset can transport the passenger capacity of 12-16 Boeing 737 jets or remove 30-40,000 daily solo-drivers from an Interstate Highway.
2. Combat Climate Change: Electric-powered HSR dramatically cuts Smog and GHG by reducing regional flights and solo-drives; these benefits grow as Wind, Solar and Bio-fuel replace Coal in power plants.
3. Productive Travel Time for knowledge workers: HSR has fewer schedule delays, less time through security, less board/unboard time, electric outlets & WiFi in every seat.
4. Comfortable Travel Time for leisure travel: Acela HSR and European HSR Coach Class seating has hip & legroom similar to Business Class hip & leg-room on airplanes; use restrooms whenever you like; nearly every nation that built HSR systems has induced more leisure travel to areas surrounding its stations.
5. Electric-powered HSR reduces trade deficits by importing less oil for automotive transportation. China cites this factor as justification to build HSR and Rapid Transit systems faster.
6. HSR produces thousands-to-tens of thousands jobs per system.
7. Intermodal Transportation Centers required by HSR, anchor Rapid Transit, Shuttles, Bus Bays, Taxis, Uber/Lyft and Bikeways to collectively attract retail, office and hotel development that rejuvenates or enhances cities.
8. Several Global Economic Competitors developed billion dollar companies employing thousands of people that build HSR trains for their nation and others.
In the video below, glimpse at how one private company makes money selling HSR consulting & operational services, while hosting a shopping mall in Europe’s largest Intermodal Transportation Center.
Big Sticks For Not Building Intercity High Speed Rail Networks
Throughout history, transportation advantages have led to larger economic growth for cities, regions and nations. 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 remained larger than New York City’s until World War I.
Prior to 1825, New York City, Philadelphia and Boston were close in population size and economic scale. Then Erie Canal opened, giving New York City access to larger, faster, cheaper commodity trade volume between the Midwest and Europe than Philadelphia and Boston. Soon afterwards, New York City dwarfed Philadelphia and Boston in jobs, economic importance and population size. New York City extended its passenger transportation advantage over other American cities and regions by building the world’s largest 24-hour Metro Rail system from 1904 to 2010. Chicago also powered past Detroit in economic importance due to its Metro Rail system and shipping advantages.
Even in the Information 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 optimizing passenger transportation modes.
Global Economic Competitor Completing HSR Network By 2030: 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 flatlands, Japan was compelled to invent a future transportation mode sooner than everyone else.
As mentioned in Part 1, Japan launched electric-powered 130 mph Shinkansen in 1964. Though Japan’s intercity tollway system is comprehensive, its high tolls and 62-mph speed limit discourage solo-driving. Tokyo’s 18 Commuter Rail systems, 2 Metro Rail systems and trams handle the most rapid transit passengers in the world. Osaka Metro Rail system is one of the world’s 15 busiest and there are 13 Commuter Rail Stems, plus Tram systems as well. Tokyo and Osaka rapid transit systems serve every Shinkansen station and making it easy for every citizen access Shinkansen. Shinkansen has transported over 10 billion passengers through earthquake and typhoon country with zero fatalities. In 2018, Shinkansen HSR Network grew 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, Commuter Rail, Metro Rail, Trams (Light Rail), expensive Tollways and high gasoline prices, only 30% of Japanese ride the National Tollway System. Shinkansen is also renown for it capacity to handle 1200 passengers per train every 3-5 minutes and astonishing schedule dependability — as low as 6 seconds annual delay on one line.
By 2023, Shinkansen HSR expands to 2141 miles. Shinkansen can go faster, but their culture places higher value on limiting noise. So Japanese train builders have R&D underway to reduce tunnel boom and other mobile noise. By 2027, Shinkansen Maglev (Chūō Shinkansen) will run 315 mph between Tokyo and Nagoya — about 90% through tunnels. By 2030, Shinkansen HSR will likely blanket the nation with 155-217 mph HSR service, plus the MagLev line. Unburdened by regional flights, Japanese airports are optimized for flights of over 500 miles. Japan will seamlessly connect Airports, HSR, Rapid Transit, Electric Shuttle Buses, Tollway-Freeway systems and Bikeways 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. In 2019, its HSR network has grown to 687 miles featuring two 186-205 mph HSR lines, one 155 mph line and two 143 mph lines.
By 2022, Korean engineers complete train, power and signal upgrades for the most popular route to reach 217 mph. The South Korean HSR network expands to 763 miles, with seven new or upgraded HSR lines. South Korea will seamlessly connect International Airports, HSR, Rapid Transit, Electric Buses and Tollway-Freeway systems in an optimized Intermodal Passenger Transportation Network.
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 and unit cost for electricity declines by adding more wind and solar energy. In 2019, 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 route upgrades complete that will enable Nextgen HST to reach 217 mph. There will be 155 mph tunnel extensions to Switzerland and Germany. By 2030-33, all 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 LGV enabling 162 mph TGV between Paris and Lyon. In 2019, the 1694-mile French HSR system reaches 199 mph on seven lines, 186 mph on six 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 HSR stations. Now French HSR lines transport over 115 million annual passengers and 85% of the French ride HSR.
Initial LGV had a minimum curve radii of 2.5 miles to achieve 186 mph top speed. New LGV have minimum radii of 4.3 miles to allow 199 mph and higher future speeds. Wheels and catenary are becoming more durable and cabin noise at higher speeds have decreased. Nextgen HST are being certified for 248 mph commercial operation. An industry standard is to operate HST at 90% of the certified speed. Hence, the French plan to operate 248 mph certified HST at 224 mph on new LGV, as their HSR Network expands to 2078 miles by 2024. The French also run TGV at 137 mph branching off LGV to reach secondary destinations without upgrading some routes until demand justifies at least 186 mph.
By 2030, France will have about 2500 HSR miles providing 155-224 mph service to every populous French corridor and to Belgium, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Switzerland. By 2033, a 155 mph French-Italian tunnel under the Alps should open, adding Paris-Lyon-Torino-Milan HSR service.
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. In 2007, Eurostar tracks on the UK side were upgraded to support 186 mph, shortening travel time between Paris-London to 2 hours 4 minutes and 1 hour 43 minutes between London-Brussels. As a result, Eurostar controls 95% of travel between those four cities. 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 Travel Time per round-trip, French, Belgian and British businesspersons are using Eurostar for more 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 and most of Europe. Hence, there are no more border stops for train changes. Spain’s HSR Network has grown disproportionately faster than all other European nations. In 2018, AVE Network reached 2010 miles.
Spanish government views the transformational importance of AVE Network the same way we viewed our Interstate Highway System from 1956-2000. By 2030, Spain will blanket its nation with 3045 HSR miles featuring 155-217 mph service to over 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 upgrades 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 international lines to France and Switzerland.
By 2023, ICE Network is slated for 2093 miles, with a couple lines reaching 205 mph. By 2032, ICE Network will likely run up 149-211 mph between the German cities of Frankfurt, Mannheim, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Hannover, Berlin, Leipzig, Stuttgart, Wurzburg, Nurnberg and Munich.
By 2030, Germany’s 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 line. 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.
By 2030, Belgiums’s speed upgrade goal is to shrink all Thalys travel times to Frankfort by 15 minutes.
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 planned to open in 2026. London-Manchester corridor is slated to open 217 mph service by 2032. Virgin Trains UK will pay the UK government to operate HST in those routes.
Shared technology standards and best practices have enabled a European Union (EU) HSR network that links over 70 cities and features a Eurail Pass of discounted travel prices. The Eurail Pass is becoming more attractive each year as HSR expands 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 license fees to run their HST on routes, which helps fund HSR expansion. EU nations are expanding rapid transit systems simultaneous with HSR expansion — 37 EU airports feature HSR-Metrorail stations. A typical European city also has a larger percentage of bike riders.
Anchored by international train orders, Alstom (France), Japan Railway Central, Bombardier (Canada), Siemens (Germany) and Talgo (Spain) billion dollar companies, similar to Boeing and AirBus.
By 2030, most 112-137 mph (grey & yellow) routes on the Western Europe HSR Map will become 149-224 mph routes. Western Europe will have 19,000 HSR miles to over 100 cities. 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 freight trucks, freight trains, cargo ships and cruise ships. Green and nuclear energy will source most EU electric power. EU Airports, HSR, Metrorail, Electric Buses and Tollway-Freeway systems will interconnect the world’s 2nd biggest Intermodal Passenger Transportation Network.
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 2019, China was the world’s largest economy, a measured by GDP. Their rapid economic growth and form of government allows more Imminent Domain land-takings and job assignment to build massive transportation systems faster and cheaper than democratic nations. In 2019, China has over 18,000 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 2018.
China will continue investing $100 billion/year to reach a staggering 24,000 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 discourages solo-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. Between Newark and Baltimore 105 miles of track reach 135 mph. In 2020, 24 miles of track between New Brunswick and Trenton will enable 160 mph using current Acela transits. When Nextgen HST arrives in 2021, Acela will reach 186 mph between New Brunswick and Trenton. By then, we will have 58 miles of 150-186 mph track and 81 remaining miles of 135 mph track. Those totals are shameful compared to HSR mileage by Global Economic Competitors.
SUMMARY: Global Economic Competitor Transportation Advantages Over America
Last century, America enjoyed cheap oil & gas assisted by the world’s best airport, highway, seaport-to-freight rail infrastructure for passengers and freight. That infrastructure enabled us to close more business transactions and expand 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 solo-driving. As each HSR route opens in a corridor, fewer freight trucks are stuck in intercity highway congestion. By moving passengers to new HSR tracks, they are freeing up slow-speed track capacity to improve seaport-to-freight rail networks for lower shipping costs. The EU and China are racing to build a Freight Rail networks that match ours by 2030.
By shrinking 3-6 hour train rides to 1.5-3 hour rides, they conduct far more business activity 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 Light Rail 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.