Interstate High Speed Rail Competitors
Throughout history decreasing travel time has been important to economic growth. Other nations have committed to building efficient modes of transportation comprised of world-class Airports, Highways, High Speed Rail, Regional Rail, Rapid Transit, Busways, Shuttles, Taxis/Uber/Lyft and Bikeways to combat traffic congestion, smog and greenhouse gases. For many 21st century reasons, America’s transportation infrastructure can’t afford to lag behind Global Economic Competitors.
In the 21st century, advanced nations have transitioned from the Industrial Age to the Information Age featuring knowledge workers responsible for ever larger parts of their economy. In this age, knowledge worker travel time impacts a nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as much as efficient freight shipments by boat, rail and truck. Their most precious asset is time. Since most knowledge workers travel each workday, they need to shorten travel time and utilize travel time more productively. Leisure travelers also crave more comfortable travel time. Global Economic Competitors in Asia and Europe have taken a holistic approach to productive use of knowledge worker travel time.
Though the above chart fairly communicates general distances & passenger transportation modes, a bit of granularity is in order. High Speed Rail (HSR) is the optimal passenger mode over 100-500 miles. Standard (79-110 mph) Amtrak service is fine for 20-125 miles. Commuter Rail is very effective in the 10-40 mile range, while Metro Rail and Bus Rapid Transit are generally best over 1-15 miles.
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 increase the knowledge worker, leisure travel and environmental value of HSR and Rapid Transit each year.
Excluding a portion of the Northeast, America is missing the HSR mode in regions that contain several large metro areas (mega-regions). America has also under-built and under-utilized Rapid Transit within metro areas. That is why American airports and highways overload.
Intercity Passenger Rail Categories
Lets examine a “Cliff Notes” version of intercity passenger rail categories to understand the benefits Global Economic Competitors are reaping from HSR. Miles per hour (mph) listed below, are conversions from kilometers per hour (kph) used in countries outside America:
59 mph Routes: Slow Zones; use diesel-powered trains; 1-2 daily intercity passenger trains on routes shared with infrequent commuter and freight trains; low on-time performance; these speeds are common to Amtrak, outside the Northeast.
79 mph Routes: Mostly Slow Zones; use diesel-powered trains; 3-15 daily intercity passenger trains on routes shared with commuter and freight trains; low on-time performance; these speeds are common to Amtrak, outside the Northeast.
90 mph Routes: Fewer Slow Zones; use diesel-powered trains; 3-15 daily intercity passenger trains on routes shared with commuter and freight trains; modestly better on-time performance; Amtrak Pacific Surfliner Santa Ana to Sorrento in San Diego County.
99-112 mph Routes: Fewer Slow Zones; use diesel-electric, biofuel or electric-powered trains; 6-16 daily intercity passenger train routes shared with commuter trains and freight trains; some have urban fencing and many grade separations; all have urban fencing, and concrete ties for smoother ride; better on-time performance; USDOT calls these routes “Emerging HSR” trains; Outside North America, 0these are called “Classic” trains.
124-150 mph Routes: routes completely are completely separated from roadway, but has some curves; use electric-powered High Speed Trains (HST); 12-36 daily intercity passenger trains; urban fencing, concrete ties and welded rails for smooth rides; countries often permit fast commuter trains to share the route during daytime and freight trains after passenger service ends late night; 85-90% on-time performance.
155-177 mph Routes: routes completely separated from roadways and has straiter HSR-only tracks; uses electric-powered aerodynamic HST; 20-36 daily intercity passenger trains; some countries permit fast, light-weight postal trains on them after passenger service; 93-95% on-time performance, with the exception of 99.9% in Japan.
186-224 mph Routes: routes completely separated from roadways and has very strait HSR-only tracks; uses electric-powered very aerodynamic HST; 20-64 daily intercity passenger trains; 95-99.9% on-time performance; some trains have 1200 passenger capacity equaling two Airbus A380 jets
The International Union of Railways (UIC) recognizes 155 mph (250 kph) as the Minimum Sustained Speed for High Speed Rail in commercial operation. UIC maps also recognize 137-150 mph (220-241 kph) routes as important feeder lines to HSR lines. For a comprehensive look at railroading categories, examine this taxonomy of route speeds, train power sources, train frequencies, punctuality, and passenger capacities.
At each speed bump from 137 to 155 to 174 to 186 to 199 to 217 mph, HSR attracts more business patrons who want to travel between the Central Business District (CBD) of more City Pairs in less time. Business patrons also value trains arriving every 10-30 minutes. More premium-tickets sold in Business Class enables HST operators to offer lower-ticket prices for Coach Class.
Big Benefits For Nations Building Intercity High Speed Rail Networks
Advanced nations in Europe are building HSR mileage proportionate to mega-region or corridor population density to reap these benefits in the Information Age:
1. Combat Traffic Congestion: At 3-6 trains per hour, one HSR line can transport the passenger capacity of 12-16 Boeing 737 jets or remove 30-40,000 daily solo-drivers from Interstate 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 far better on-time performance than commercial flights, less time through security, less board/unboard time, some cabins that are Quiet Zones, electric outlets and WiFi in every seat.
4. Comfortable Travel Time: Amtrak Acela and European HSR seating has legroom similar to Business Class on airplanes; you can visit the dining car and use restrooms whenever you like.
5. Space-efficiency: People don’t like their property being taken by Imminent Domain; space-efficient HSR requires 1/4th to 1/10th less land-taking for the same passenger capacity as highways.
6. Reduce Imported Oil for Transportation: In the years ahead, electric-powered HSR and Rapid Transit will help reduce trade deficits from imported oil and by reducing solo-drives in oil-powered cars whose fuel & vehicle depreciation cost equals a High Speed Train (HST) ride.
7. More Jobs: Each HSR system creates thousands-to-tens of thousands of jobs that can not be exported.
8. Transportation-Oriented Communities: Train stations are enhanced to become Intermodal Transportation Centers that enable smoother transfers between HSR, Regional Trains, Rapid Transit, Buses, Shuttles, Taxi/Uber/Lyft and Bikeways that attract more patrons and tourists; in a virtuous cycle, larger foot-traffic attracts more retail, office, hotel and residential development for more vibrant Central Business Districts (CBD).
9. Billion dollar companies have emerged 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 also 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 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. 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 and economic scale. Then Erie Canal opened, giving New York City access to larger, faster, cheaper cargo volume between the Midwest and Europe. Though other factors contributed as well, its undeniable that Erie Canal played a significant role in New York City dwarfing Philadelphia and Boston in economic importance, jobs and population size in the 1800s. New York City extended its transportation advantage over other American cities by building the world’s largest Metro Rail system from 1904 to 2010. Similarly, Chicago powered past older Detroit in economic importance, jobs and population size due to its freight rail, Midwest cargo shipping and Metro Rail system advantages.
Keep that in mind as you consider how Global Economic Competitors are optimizing passenger transportation modes in the Information Age, while freeing older rail for freight shipping.
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.
Japan launched 130 mph electric-powered Shinkansen passenger trains in 1964. Tokyo’s 18 Commuter Rail systems, 2 Metro Rail systems and Trams (Light Rail) 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 there are 13 Commuter Rail systems, plus Trams. A buffet of Tokyo and Osaka rapid transit lines serve Shinkansen stations, making it easy for every citizen to access HSR. 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 3-5 minutes 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. Given the combination of slower tollway speeds, expensive tolls & gasoline, Shinkansen speed, frequency, capacity and dependability, Commuter Rail, Metro Rail and Trams, only 30% of Japanese ride the National Tollway System.
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 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 & Shuttles 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 certified speed up to 249 mph (400 kph) in its longest, mostly straight stretches. Early TGV were modified to operate commercially at 199 mph (320 kph) on new LGV. In 2019, the 1694-mile French HSR system reaches 199 mph on seven lines, 186 mph on six lines and 137 mph on regional rail. Paris, Lyon, Marseilles, Lille and Le Mans expanded Metro Rail, Trams and Bikeways that feed patrons to HSR stations. Other French cities orient Trams and Bikeways around 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 next generation Avelia Horizon trains. Those nextgen TGV are certified for 249 mph. When they start replacing old TGV in 2023, nextgen TGV 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 up to 90% of their certified 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 “upgraded” 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 sooner before such curves. Airlines still envy TGV’s safety record.
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, 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 “HSR” 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 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, Belgium’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 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 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, as 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 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 down to 150 mph for America, the 457-mile Northeast Corridor has 34 miles of 150 mph HSR between Boston suburbs and eastern Connecticut. Between Newark and Baltimore there are roughly 105 miles of 135 mph track. In 2020, 24 miles of track between New Brunswick and Trenton will enable 160 mph using current Acela trains. When Nextgen HST arrives in 2021, Acela will operate at 186 mph between New Brunswick and Trenton. By then, we will have 58 miles of 150-186 mph track, 81 miles of 135-140 mph track and trains that tilt more for faster speeds through curves. Despite more HSR mileage coming over 2025-28 to the Northeast Corridor and California, our lack of HSR commitment is political and economic 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 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.