Throughout history, decreasing travel time has been important to economic growth and competitiveness. Other advanced nations are building world-class Airports, Highways, Intercity Passenger Rail, Freight Rail, Rapid Transit and Bus service to convey people & goods more swiftly and efficiently. The result is a balanced Intermodal Transportation Network for each nation or union of nations to increase their their economic competitiveness, while combatting highway & airport traffic congestion, smog and greenhouse gases.
Interstate High Speed Rail Competitors
In the 21st century, advanced nations have transitioned from the Manufacturing Sector to the Service Sector being responsible for the majority of their economy. Knowledge Workers fuel the Service sector. When they waste time stuck in highway or airport traffic, a Knowledge Worker’s travel delay impacts a nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as much as freight travel time delay. Knowledge Workers need to shorter travel time and prefer to utilize travel time more productively. Leisure travelers also crave more comfortable travel time. Recognizing those factors, Global Economic Competitors in Asia and Europe are building comprehensive passenger transportation networks whose modes that are tailored to distance of travel, like the chart below.
Intercity Passenger Rail Categories
Meanwhile, America lags behind Global Economic Competitors in Intercity Passenger Rail and Rapid Transit modes.
Lets examine a “Cliff Notes” version of Intercity Passenger Rail categories to understand the benefits Global Economic Competitors are reaping and what America is missing. We’ll cover America’s Rapid Transit later in this narrative series. Unusual miles per hour (mph) references are conversions from kilometers per hour (kph) used by countries outside America:
59-79 mph: Conventional Rail routes rely on crossing gates at roadways, but often include a few railway over/underpasses in urban areas to separate railway from roadway; diesel-powered passenger trains run 1-15 daily roundtrips; loaded with Slow Zones and typically shared with commuter trains and/or freight trains, they have low on-time performance; 59-79 mph speeds are common to Commuter Rail and Amtrak routes.
90-112 mph: Improved Conventional Rail has fewer Slow Zones because they include a substantial number of over/underpasses; they include a substantial number of concrete rail ties for smoother rides; These routes feature diesel-electric, biofuel-electric or electric-powered trains and are commonly shared with Commuter Rail and Freight Rail; In Europe and Japan, their frequency is typically 12-18 daily roundtrips feeding intermodal train stations; In America, their frequency is typically 6-16 daily roundtrips; Amtrak Keystone 110 mph service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg is an example.
124-143 mph: Regional Rail routes are completely separated from roadway and include urban fencing for 85-90% on-time performance; In addition to concrete ties, they have better bedding under railway and welded rails for smoother rides; Track curvature and a modest track maintenance regimen prevent higher speeds, but they feature electric-powered passenger trains and 16-36 daily roundtrips; Countries often permit commuter trains to share the track during daytime; when parallel track is unavailable, freight trains often share the track after passenger service; Amtrak Acela & Northeast Regional 125-135 mph service between NYC and Washington is an example.
150-177 mph: High Speed Rail routes are completely separated from roadway and have less track curvature; HSR features electric-powered, aerodynamic High Speed Trains (HST) and 20-42 daily roundtrips; Germany permits high speed, light-weight freight trains on their tracks after passenger service; HST on these HSR routes feature 93-96% on-time performance, with the enviable exception of 99.9% in Japan; Amtrak Acela 150 mph service between eastern Connecticut and southern Massachusetts is an example.
186-217 mph: Very High Speed Rail routes are completely separated from roadways and feature strait-ish, very level high speed-only tracks; they are built for electric-powered aerodynamic Very High Speed Trains and 20-64 daily roundtrips with 96-99.9% on-time performance; some trains have 1200 passenger capacity equaling two Airbus A380 jets; these routes are distinguished by ultra-strict maintenance regimens to ensure performance, safety and schedule reliability; when opened, California HSR will feature frequent 220 mph service.
The International Union of Railways (UIC) recognizes 155 mph (250 kph) as the Minimum Sustained Speed in commercial operation to qualify for “High Speed Rail” designation. Most train analysts however, include the 36 miles where Amtrak Acela reaches 150 mph. UIC also recognizes 124-130-137-143 mph (200-210-220-230 kph) Regional Rail routes between smaller cities and 186-199-205-217 mph (300-320-330-350 kph) Very High Speed Rail routes in densely-populated corridors.
Improved Conventional Rail is being upgraded to Regional Rail in Europe and Asia. Regional Rail is being upgraded to High Speed Rail for more patrons who want to travel between City Pairs in less time. Very High Speed Rail is being built to compress travel times over longer distances. In the rest of this narrative, we lump Regional Rail, High Speed Rail and Very High Speed Rail together as “HSR” for general context, but separate them when specificity requires.
Benefits For Nations Building Intercity HSR Networks
Global Economic Competitors in Europe and Asia are building or upgrading HSR proportionate to corridor populations to reap these benefits:
1. Combat Traffic Congestion: At 2-6 trains per hour, one HSR line can transport the passenger capacity of 20-60,000 daily solo-drivers from Intercity Highway.
2. Combat Smog and Greenhouse Gases (GHG): Electric-powered HSR dramatically cuts Smog and GHG by reducing regional flights (under 500 miles) and solo-drives; these benefits grow as Wind and Solar energy replace Coal in electric power plants.
3. Productive Travel Time: HSR has better on-time performance than commercial flights, less time through security, less board/unboard time, and some cabins that are Quiet Zones; HSR had electric outlets and WiFi in every seat well before airplanes.
4. Comfortable Travel Time: European HSR seating has legroom similar to Business Class on airplanes, but unlike airplanes, you can visit the dining car and restroom whenever you like.
5. Space-Efficiency: People don’t like their property being taken by Imminent Domain; HSR requires 1/4th to 1/8th land-taking for the same passenger capacity as Intercity Highways.
6. Reduce Imported Oil for Transportation: In the years ahead, electric-powered HSR will reduce trade deficits from imported oil by reducing solo-drives in oil-powered cars for distances over 50 miles.
7. More Jobs: Each HSR system creates thousands to tens of thousands of jobs that can not be exported.
8. Transportation-Oriented Development: Train stations in Central Business Districts (CBD) are upgrading to become Intermodal Transportation Centers that enable convenient transfers between HSR, Rapid Transit, Tourbuses, Standard Buses, Taxis, Uber/Lyft and Bikeways; Since they attract more patrons, a byproduct is more retail, hotel and office development for more vibrant CBDs.
9. More Exports: Billion dollar companies have emerged in Europe and Asia that build HST for their nation and others. They’re advancing HST speeds by using lighter weight materials, more aerodynamic designs, improved wheel technology, and superior brakes that regenerate electricity that goes back to more powerful engines.
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 accelerated 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 productivity breakthroughs enabled England’s economy to grow faster and larger than others in Europe by reducing costs and delays to transport freight and passengers.
Up to 1820, New York City and Philadelphia were relatively close in population and economic scale. Then Erie Canal opened in 1821, giving New York City access to larger, faster, cheaper freight volume from the Midwest. By 1840, Erie Canal helped New York City dwarf Philadelphia, Baltimore and New Orleans in population and economic size. New York City extended its transportation advantage by building the world’s largest Metro Heavy Rail system and most Intercity Passenger Rail lines from 1900 to 2000. Similarly, Chicago leapfrogged other America cities by building better freight & passenger rail infrastructure.
Metro area growth is inevitable. How metro areas adapt infrastructure to that growth is not. Keep that in mind as you consider how Global Economic Competitors are optimizing passenger transportation modes, while enhancing seaport-to-freight rail networks.
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 innovate a transportation mode sooner than everyone else.
In 1964, Japan launched electric-powered Shinkansen passenger trains at 130 mph. Today, Tokyo’s 18 Commuter Rail systems, 2 Metro Rail systems and Light Rail trams handle the most rapid transit passengers of any metro area in the world. Osaka Metro Rail system is one of the world’s 15 busiest and is complimented by 13 Commuter Rail systems and Trams. A buffet of Tokyo and Osaka and Nagoya rapid transit lines serve Shinkansen stations. In 2019, 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. It has transported over 10 billion passengers through earthquake and typhoon country with zero fatalities since 1964. Shinkansen is also renown for capacity to handle 1200 passengers per train every 3 minutes on one line and astonishing 99.9% on-time performance. Though Japan’s intercity tollway system is comprehensive, its high toll cost and 62-mph speed limit discourage intercity solo-driving.
By 2023, Shinkansen HSR expands to 2141 miles. By 2027, Shinkansen Maglev (Chūō Shinkansen) will run 314 mph (505 kph) between Tokyo and Nagoya — about 90% through tunnels. By 2030, Shinkansen HSR will blanket the nation with 155-217 mph HSR service, plus the Tokyo-Nagoya MagLev segment. By 2035, Japan plans to complete the Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka MagLev line for 1 hour 10 minute travel time demanded by business patrons and to reduce Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka Shinkansen HSR overcrowding. Unburdened by regional flights, Japanese airports are optimized for flights over 500 miles. Japan will seamlessly connect Airports, MagLev, HSR, Rapid Transit, Electric Buses & Shuttles, Tollway-Freeway systems and Bikeways in an optimized Intermodal Passenger Transportation Network that imports far less oil & coal.
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 upgraded 143 mph lines.
By 2022, Korean engineers complete 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
France The building blocks of HSR are high speed lines and high speed trains. The French set the benchmarks for high speed lines they call Lignes a Grande Vitesse (LGV) and HST they call Trains a Grande Vitesse (TGV). Their early LGV had a minimum curve radii of 2.5 miles for TGV to initially operate at 162 mph HSR in 1981, then boost to 186 mph (300 kph) with more powerful TGV engines by 1988.
Since 2007, new LGV has a minimum radii of 4.3 miles for modified TGV to operate commercially at 199 mph (320 kph) and nextgen HST to operate up to 249 mph (400 kph) in long stretches. In 2019, the 1694-mile French HSR system reached 199 mph on seven lines, 186 mph on six lines and 137 mph on a number of lines to smaller cities. Paris, Lyon, Marseilles, Lille and Le Mans expanded Commuter Rail, Metro Rail and Trams that feed patrons to HSR stations. Now French HSR lines transport over 115 million annual passengers and 85% of the French ride HSR.
The French company ALSTOM, who built the original TGV, is building nextgen Avelia Horizon trains certified for 249 mph in commercial operation on LGV-like routes. When they start replacing old TGV trains in 2023, nextgen HST will be 20% more energy efficient, carry 20% more passengers and be cheaper to maintain. For lower maintenance costs and passenger comfort, an industry best practice is to operate HST at 90% of their certified top speed within a high speed line’s design limits. Hence, nextgen TGV will operate up to 186 mph on old LGV and up to 224 mph (360 kph) on new LGV. Some older 137 mph track is also having curves eased to become LGV that support 155 mph (250 kph).
TGV lost its spotless safety record in 2015. Derailment killed 11 people in a test run that intentionally disabled automated safety systems in order to test speed above the planned operation limits. The train was transitioning from high-speed LGV into a slow-speed curve to conventional tracks approaching the train station. There is no cause for passenger concern however. TGV’s automated safety system would have prevented the accident in commercial operation by braking well before such curves.
By 2030, France will have 2500 LGV miles providing 155-224 mph service to every populous French corridor and to Belgium, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Switzerland. By 2033 or so, a 155 mph French-Italian tunnel under the Alps to Italy is planned to open.
In 1994, Eurostar HSR service was introduced between France, Belgium and United Kingdom. High speed lines in France and Belgium supported Eurostar HST running 186 mph, though they were capable of handling faster HST. The Channel Tunnel permitted HST at 99 mph, while the UK had Classic line limiting Eurostar HST to about 112 mph. In 2007, high speed line on the UK side was added to support 186 mph and faster speeds, shortening travel time between Paris-London to 2 hours 4 minutes and 1 hour 43 minutes between London-Brussels with the same Eurostar HST. In 2017, new Eurostar HST made by Siemens raised commercial operation to 199 mph 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, Eurostar now controls 95% of travel between those three cities.
Italy In 1977, Italy TAV opened Europe’s first 155 mph line. Built between Rome and Florence, the first European HSR system had issues during its early years. As those issues got resolved, Italian train builders became famous for developing tilting mechanisms in HST that ran up to 186 mph. In 2013, Italy imported the French-built AGV and Canadian-built Zefiro, which are certified to operate at 236 mph, but limited to 186 mph in Milan-Bologna-Florence-Rome-Naples-Salerno corridor until the HSL is upgraded. 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 will enable Nextgen HST to reach 217 mph in new high speed lines. There will also be 155 mph tunnels to Switzerland and Germany. Over 2030-35, all major cities in Italy will connect via 155-217 mph HSR service and there will be 155 mph tunnels to France and Austria.
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 in France and the rest of Western Europe. There are no more Spain-France border stops for HST changes.
The Spanish government views the transformational importance of AVE Network the same way America viewed its Interstate Highway System. AVE Network has grown much faster than all other European nations. In 2018, AVE Network reached 2010 miles. 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 124 mph InterCity Express (ICE) service in one route. By 2018, ICE Network expanded spiderweb-like to 1889 miles via four 186 mph lines, two 168 mph lines, six 155 mph lines, one 143 mph line and many 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 run at 149-217 mph between Frankfurt, Mannheim, Bonn, 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, plus 155-199 mph connections to France, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria.
Belgium & Netherlands These small Dutch countries have built 417 miles of HSR 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.
Today, many segments of Brussels-Liege-Cologne-Franfurt route are limited to 99 mph, while the faster segments operate at 162-186 mph. By 2030, Belgium will upgrade most of the route to 137-162-186 mph to shrink Brussels-Frankfurt travel time from 3 hours 15 minutes to 3 hours. Speed will likely increase from 99 mph to 137-162 mph in Brussels-Antwerp route segment, as well.
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 for 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 for discounted travel prices. The Eurail Pass is expanding 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 99-137 mph (grey) routes on the Europe HSR Map will become 137-155 mph routes. Most 124-143 mph (yellow) routes will become 155-224 mph routes. Europe will have 19,000 HSR miles between 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 Europe is also adding more tollway charging stations for electric cars and adopting biofuel standards for freight trucks, freight trains, freight ships and cruise ships. Green and nuclear energy will source most electric power. European 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: CHINA
In 1993, China was an emerging economy with intercity passenger trains averaging 30 mph and most citizens riding bicycles. In 2008, China opened its first HSR line, 74 miles between Beijing and Tianjin. By 2019, China was the world’s second largest economy as measured by GDP. Their rapid economic growth and form of government allows more land-takings and job assignment to build massive transportation systems faster and cheaper than democratic nations. In only 11 years, China leaped to 18,000 HSR miles connected to new Metro Rail systems in 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 a narrower intercity tollway 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 and oil 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
If one relaxes the UIC’s 155 mph HSR definition a bit to include 150 mph for America, the 457-mile Northeast Corridor has 34 miles of HSR between Boston’s southern suburbs and eastern Connecticut. Between Newark and Baltimore there are about 105 miles of 135 mph track. In 2020, 24 miles of new track between New Brunswick and Trenton will enable 160 mph using current Acela trains. When Nextgen HST arrive in 2021, Acela will operate at 186 mph between New Brunswick and Trenton and trains that tilt more for faster speeds through curves. By then, we will have 58 miles of 150-186 mph track and about 80 miles of 135-140 mph track. Despite more HSR mileage coming to the Northeast Corridor and California, our lack of HSR commitment is economic and environmental malfeasance compared to 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 that 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 and aviation infrastructure of Global Economic Competitors matches ours. Their highway infrastructure is as comprehensive as our Interstate Highway, but has narrower Tollways and higher gasoline prices that discourage solo-driving. As each HSR route opens in a corridor, fewer freight trucks are stuck in intercity highway congestion and more capacity on old track improves seaport-to-freight rail networks for lower shipping costs. Many of them will have seaport-to-freight rail networks that match our efficiency by 2030-35.
By shrinking 3-6 hour train rides to 1.5-3 hour rides in the Information Age, they conduct far more business activity on HSR and attract more leisure travelers. Their popular Rapid Transit systems dramatically reduce the percentage of citizens caught in productivity-draining traffic jams.
Excluding 2009-10, America has never invested enough in High Speed Rail. We rarely converted Streetcar routes to Light Rail and under-built Metro Rail systems when it would have been cheap to do so. Since 2000, America has under-maintained Interstate Highways. By letting surface transportation advantages wilt away, America sits in longer Peak Hour traffic jams and crosses 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.