Throughout history, decreasing travel time for workers & cargo has been important to economic growth and competitiveness. Other advanced nations are building comprehensive High Speed Rail and Rapid Transit systems to transport people in less time and more productively than America.
Interstate High Speed Rail Competitors Reaping Benefits
Throughout history, transportation advances accelerate economic growth for cities, regions and nations. In 1811, England pioneered the first practical train service between it’s large cities and seaports. In 1863, London built the world’s first subway system. Both transportation advances helped England’s GDP outgrow other nations. Up to 1820, New York City and Philadelphia were close in population and economic output called Gross Domestic Product (GDP). 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 in population and GDP size. In the 20th century, New York City extended its transportation advantage by building the world’s largest Metro Rail and Commuter Rail networks.
In the 21st century, every advanced nation competes in the global economy. Most have already transitioned from the Manufacturing Sector to Service Sector responsible for the majority of their economy. Knowledge Workers fuel the Service sector. Their collective delay on highways and at airports reduces GDP. So Knowledge Workers need shorter travel time and to utilize their travel time more productively. Recognizing those factors, Global Economic Competitors in Asia and Europe are completing transportation networks whose travel modes are better optimized for workers than those in America.
High Speed Rail (HSR), Regional Rail and Metro Rail are high capacity modes that can transport 300-1200 passengers per train. Route categories let us quickly grasp their time-saving top speed, schedule dependability, energy source and safety benefits to workers & students. Though Trams/Light Rail and Commuter Rail have lower capacity, they also benefit workers & students. To American readers of the following chart, miles per hour (mph) speeds are converted from kilometers per hour (10 kph = 6.213 mph) common elsewhere.
Trams/Light Rail Routes reach 45-62 mph: They are dedicated electric-powered routes in urban areas; they may have tunnels, viaduct, over/underpasses, but do have roadway & pedestrian crossings; they are safer than driving.
Metro Rail Routes reach 60-81 mph: They are dedicated electric-powered routes in urban areas; since they have tunnels, viaduct, over/underpasses at all roadway, railway & pedestrian crossings, they are more dependable and safer than driving.
Commuter Rail Routes reach 60-80 mph in America, 62-81 mph elsewhere: They have many Slow Zones due to curves, places where autos & people cross tracks, and sometimes movable bridges; they are shared between freight rail, commuter rail and in America, Amtrak; diesel and diesel-eletric-powered trains run on them.
Regional Rail Routes reach 90-110 mph in America, 93-118 mph elsewhere: They have more over/underpasses to reduce Slow Zones and sometimes use movable bridges; they are often shared between freight rail, regional rail and when near stations, HSR; diesel-electric trains may run on them, but most will be electric-powered by 2030; they are more dependable and safer than commuter rail.
1st Generation HSR Routes reach 125-135 mph in America, 124-149 mph elsewhere: These and faster routes have over/underpasses at all railroad crossings; remaining Slow Zones are caused by curves, places where slower trains cross their tracks or movable bridges; electric High Speed Trains (HST) run on them, but some host diesel-electric trains; they are more dependable and safer than Regional Rail.
2nd Generation HSR Routes reach 150-160 mph in America, 155-177 mph elsewhere: They are less curvy than 1st Generation HSR Routes; no slower trains cross their tracks outside station areas and they do not use movable bridges; electric HST run on them; they have over 92% schedule dependability and are safer than 1st Generation HSR Routes.
3rd Generation HSR Routes reach 186-199 mph: They are less curvy than 2nd Generation HSR Routes and have smooth rides; only light weight, electric, aerodynamic HST run on them; they have over 94% schedule dependability and set rail safety standards.
4th Generation HSR Routes reach 217-249 mph: They are less curvy than 3rd Generation HSR Routes and have baby-smooth rides; only nextgen light weight, electric, very aerodynamic HST run on them; they have over 96% schedule dependability and set rail safety standards.
If readers would like to know more specifics about these routes, see Taxonomy of Rail Routes & Passenger Trains. In the rest of this series, I lump all generations of High Speed Rail together as “HSR” for summary context, but separate them when specificity requires.
Global Economic Competitor: CHINA
In 2008, China opened its first short 186 mph HSR route. In 2020, China reached a staggering 18,000 miles of 155-217 mph HSR transporting over 1 billion passengers a year. Its HSR connects to comprehensive Regional Rail, Metro Rail and systems in 30 cities. That nation continues investing $100 billion/year to reach 24,000 HSR miles by 2025.
China’s government encourages citizens to buy electric vehicles. It is building solar & wind power faster than any other nation. By 2030, China’s Airports, HSR, Regional Rail, Metro Rail and Tollway-Freeway systems will interconnect the world’s largest Intermodal Passenger Transportation Network. China also plans to anchor a Trans-Asia HSR Network spreading to India, Southeast Asia, North Korea, Russia and Turkey.
Global Economic Competitor: JAPAN
In 1964, Japan launched the first electric-powered HSR system called “Shinkansen” running up to 130 mph. In 2020, Shinkansen HSR network has grown to 1718 miles and transported over 10 billion passengers through earthquake and typhoon country with zero fatalities since Day 1. Shinkansen is renown for 1200 passengers per train and astonishing 99.9% on-time performance in most lines. Regional Rail, Metro Rail and Trams serve Shinkansen stations.
By 2027, Shinkansen HSR will nearly blanket the nation with 2150 miles of 155-217 mph HSR service, plus a partially complete MagLev line running 311 mph. By 2035, Japan will complete the MagLev line for 67-minute travel time in Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka corridor. Japan will seamlessly connect Airports, MagLev, HSR, Regional Rail, Metro Rail, Trams, electric buses and a high percentage of electric cars on the Tollway-Freeway network in an optimized Intermodal Passenger Transportation Network.
Global Economic Competitor: SOUTH KOREA
In 2004, South Korea opened its first HSR line between its two largest cities, Seoul and Busan. By 2022, South Korea expands to 763 miles of 155-217 mph HSR blanketing the nation. By 2030, South Korea will seamlessly connect Airports, HSR, Regional Rail, Metro Rail, Trams, electric buses and a high percentage of electric cars on the Tollway-Freeway network in an optimized Intermodal Passenger Transportation Network.
Global Economic Competitor: EUROPEAN UNION
France: The nation set speed benchmarks for HSR lines they call Lignes a Grande Vitesse (LGV) and High Speed Trains (HST) they call Trains a Grande Vitesse (TGV). Their early LGV had a minimum curve radii of 2.5 miles track curvature for enough straightaway enabling TGV to reach 186 mph. Since 2007, nextgen LGV has a minimum radii of 4.3 miles track curvature for more straightaway enabling TGV to reach 199 mph, though such routes are certified up to 249 mph. Today, 85% of the French ride on 1694 miles of HSR. Nearly 65% of its railway is electrified.
Nextgen TGV is certified for 249 mph top speed on nextgen LGV. For lower operating costs, industry practice is to run HST at 90% of certified top speed within a route’s certified limit. When the French replace old TGV in 2023, nextgen TGV will operate at 224 mph on nextgen LGV. By 2030, France will blanket its nation with 2500 LGV miles providing 186-224 mph service, plus thousands of miles of Regional Rail, Metro Rail and Trams.
Italy: In 2019, Italy had 693 miles of 155-186 mph HSR. Over 72% of its railway is electrified. By 2030, Italy will connect its major cities with over 1000 miles of 155-217 mph HSR and nearly a thousand miles of Regional Rail, Metro Rail and Trams.
Spain: In 1992, Spain AVE Network opened its first 186 mph route. In 2019, AVE HSR Network reached a staggering 2010 miles of 186-199 mph service. Over 65% of its railway is electrified. By 2030, Spain will blanket its nation with 3045 HSR miles of 186-217 mph service, plus thousands of miles of Regional Rail, Metro Rail and Trams.
Germany: In 2020, ICE HSR Network reached 1900 miles of 155-186 mph service. Nearly 60% of its railway is electrified. By 2023, ICE Network will reach 2093 miles of 149-205 mph service. By 2030, ICE Network will blanket the nation with 155-205 mph service, plus thousands of miles of Regional Rail, Metro Rail and Trams.
Switzerland. By 2020, this small nation opened three lengthy 124-155 mph HSR tunnels through the Alps to shrink 4-6 hour train rides down to 2-3 hours. By 2030, it will have well over a thousand miles of HSR, Regional Rail, Metro Rail and Trams.
Belgium & Netherlands: In 2020, these small Dutch countries reached 417 miles of 155-186 mph HSR service. Over 80% of their railway is electrified. By 2030, Belgium & Netherlands will have 500 miles of 155-186 mph HSR, plus thousands miles of Regional Rail, Metro Rail and Trams.
United Kingdom: UK is known for thousands of miles of Regional Rail routes, a single 186 mph Eurostar mph route and one 143 mph HSR route. Less than 40% of its railway is electrified, but much of its Regional Rail uses diesel-electric trains. In 2026, the 224 mph London-Birmingham HSR route opens. In 2032, the 224 mph London-Manchester HSR route opens, creating over 1000 miles of 124-224 mph HSR, plus thousands of Regional Rail, Metro Rail and Tram miles.
In 2020, the 186-199 mph HSR service branded Eurostar controls 95% of Paris-London and London-Brussels travel. The European Union HSR Network links over 70 cities and features a Eurail smartphone app for discounted travel prices and smooth transfers between HSR, Regional Rail and Metro Rail in many nations. Nearly 40 airports have intermodal transportation centers connecting to HSR, Regional Rail and/or Metro Rail.
By 2030, the European Union will have 19,000 HSR miles interconnecting over 100 cities in France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal, Denmark, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Greece, Sweden, plus the United Kingdom. It will have nearly 10,000 Regional Rail miles and over 1,800 Metro Rail miles easing Eurail transfers and decreasing road fatalities. All cities over 500,00 population will at least have Tram systems. All tollways will have electric charging stations with green and nuclear energy fueling most power plants. Though still a work in progress, the European Union will have the world’s greenest and 2nd largest Intermodal Passenger Transportation Network.
SUMMARY: Global Economic Competitor Transportation Advantages Over America
In terms of passenger rail, America is playing checkers, while Global Economic Competitors are playing chess. In 2020, the world’s richest superpower will have only 160 miles of HSR, less than 300 miles of Regional Rail and only 830 miles of Metro Rail. Global Economic Competitors are enjoying these major benefits from comprehensive HSR, Regional Rail, Metro Rail and Tram systems:
1. Productive Travel Time: HSR has better on-time performance and shorter CBD-to-CBD travel times than commercial flights; some train cabins are Quiet Zones; some trains have pairs of opposing seats & tables designed for collaborative work; HST and Regional Rail had electric outlets and WiFi in every seat well before airplanes.
2. Combat Highway & Airport Congestion: One HSR route can transport the equivalent of 20-60,000 daily solo-drivers on Intercity/Interstate Highway; HSR and Regional proven to attract 60-95% of travelers who would otherwise fly or drive.
3. Safer Travel: Since more of their citizens ride HSR, Regional Rail and Metro Rail; a lower percentage of their population is killed or maimed in automotive accidents.
4. More Jobs: Each HSR, Regional Rail and Metro Rail system creates thousands of jobs that can not be exported.
5. Transportation Oriented Development (TOD): HSR attracts more business and tourism to their cities. Central Business District train stations have become intermodal transportation centers enabling convenient transfers between HSR, Regional Rail, Metro Rail, Trams, buses, Uber/Lyft, Taxis and bikeways. Since these centers attract more commuters, travelers and workers, significant retail, hotel and office development follows.
6. Less Imported Oil for Transportation: Electric-powered HSR and Rapid Transit reduces driving oil-powered cars, thereby reducing trade deficits from imported oil.
7. More Exports: Billion dollar companies have emerged in Europe and Asia that consult on HSR, Regional Rail, Metro Rail and Tram routes and build trains for a global market.
In summary, Global Economic Competitors expand passenger rail to interconnect and optimize all passenger transportation modes. The results are less traffic congestion, shorter travel times, increased productivity, safety, jobs and TOD that enhance GDP, with smaller land-takings for highways and lower trade imbalances from imported oil. In Part 3 of this series, we examine more rationale for America to swiftly expand HSR, Regional Rail, Metro Rail and Light Rail systems.