The State Of High Speed Rail, And A Look To Tomorrow

In the 21st century, the global transportation landscape is in shift. Politicians, engineers, and planners all want to move more people, more quickly, more cleanly. Amid the frenzy of innovative harebrained ideas, high-speed rail travel has surged to the forefront. It’s a quiet achiever, and a reliable solution for efficient, sustainable, and swift intercity and intercountry transit.

From the thriving economies of Europe and Asia to the burgeoning markets of the Middle East and America, high-speed rail networks are being planned, expanded, and upgraded whichever way you look. A combination of traditional and magnetic levitation (maglev) trains are being utilized, reaching speeds that were once the stuff of science fiction. As we set our sights towards the future, it’s worth taking a snapshot of the current state of high-speed rail, a field where technology, engineering brilliance, and visions of a greener tomorrow converge.

Rail Away

Morocco operates a handsome high-speed rail system running Alstom trainsets at up to 305 km/h. Credit: NicholasNCE, CC BY-SA 4.0

When talking about high-speed rail, different authorities and jurisdictions use different terminology. Generally, though, few people will disagree with you classifying a system as “high-speed rail” if it involves speeds over 250 km/h (155 mph). Trains that are fast, but not that fast, are given the diminutive title of “higher-speed rail” to indicate services that operate faster than traditional railways, but not excessively so.

Japan was the first country to develop a working high-speed rail network by the modern definition, with its world-famous Shinkansen lines. The country was a leader in rail technology for a long time, with its first-generation 0 Series trains capable of achieving 210 km/h in revenue service as early as 1964. That was shortly bumped up to 220 km/h, and incremental improvement has continued ever since. Today, the fastest Shinkansen lines operate at up to 320 km/h. In tests run in 1996, a conventional Shinkansen train reached a top speed of 443 km/h, but regular services don’t approach this higher figure.

China’s railways operate trains at up to 350 km/h in regular operation. New trainsets are in development to achieve 400 km/h in coming years. Credit: Junyi Lou, CC BY-SA 4.0

It’s a common refrain in other services around the world. France’s famous TGV runs at a top speed of 320 km/h in service, as does the ONCF Al Boraq line in Morocco. Spain and Korea run their respective networks at a maximum of 310 and 305 km/h respectively. German trains on the Intercity Express system are authorized to run at up to 330 km/h, but only to overcome delays on the Frankfurt to Cologne line. Otherwise, the national maximum is similarly 320 km/h.

Several record attempts were made by SNCF using various TGV trainsets over the years. These attempts involved overvolting the network, heavily modifying the trains, and thousands of engineering hours. Tracks were often swept at speeds up to 350 km/h by a regular TGV train to ensure a clear run for record attempts. Credit: Alain Stoll, CC BY-SA 2.0

China likes to run things a little faster, however. The country has fallen in love with high-speed rail in recent decades. By mileage, it now hosts over two-thirds of all the high-speed rail in the world. The country’s CR Fuxing trainsets regularly run at up to 350 km/h, and were the first models produced domestically without proprietary licensed technology from overseas manufacturers. They’ve clocked speeds up to 420 km/h in testing. The country’s CRH Hexie trains run at the same speed, but have been even faster in testing, with an unmodified example recording a maximum of 487 km/h.

In fact, most rail operators have attempted maxing out their high-speed trains at some time or other. France’s SNCF is well-known for running highly-modified TGV trains to chase glory, claiming the outright steel rail speed record in 2007. A heavily-modified TGV POS consist achieved a mighty figure of 574.8 km/h, fitted with larger wheels and running on an overhead line overvolted from 25 kV to 31 kV. The trainset was named V150, for the target speed of 150 meters per second (540 km/h).

Limits of Steel

The fact is that most high-speed railways have trains capable of very high speeds indeed, but regular services run at a more sedate pace for a number of reasons. While it’s possible for many high-speed trainsets to push beyond 400 km/h, these speeds are never achieved in regular service.

The French history of chasing records highlights some of the challenges in running trains on steel rails at higher speeds. For example, the catenary wires that supply electricity can cause problems. The wires are excited with a wave-like disturbance by the contact of the train’s pantograph. This wave travels at the speed determined by the wire’s mass per unit length and its tension. If the train travels fast enough to catch this wave, it can lead to large vertical oscillations of the caternary wire, causing damage or a loss of power delivery to the train. A 1990 record attempt massively increased the tension on caternary wires to avoid this problem, increasing the critical speed of the caternary. Even still, gauges recorded the caternary wires oscillating by almost 30 cm as the train reached speeds of 515 km/h.

A more common problem for high speed trains is tunnel boom, caused by the piston effect. As a train enters a tunnel, the air in front has nowhere else to go, barring the small gap between the train and the tunnel itself. The train ends up acting like a piston in a cylinder, forcing air along in front. For high-speed trains, this can create a shock wave that creates a large boom when it reaches the exit of the tunnel. The strength of the shock wave increases with the cube of the train’s velocity, so higher speeds create massively higher shocks. Techniques to reduce this involve aerodynamically profiling trains and venting tunnels, akin to putting a silencer on a firearm. Regardless, this issue plagues efforts in Japan, Spain, France, and elsewhere, to push their high speed lines to faster operating speeds.

Futhermore, the steel tracks themselves must be perfectly aligned in order to support high-speed running. For example, the TGV network aligns rails to a tolerance of just 1 mm. Achieving and maintaining that over an entire network is costly. Higher speeds require finer tolerances and more regular maintenance, as a faster moving train necessarily causes greater wear as it puts more energy into the track.

By and large, rail operators have done the sums on the benefits of faster running versus the costs involved. Most have landed on regular operational speeds in the realm of 300 to 350 km/h. That’s fast enough to make their services compelling, but reasonable enough to keep the lines operating in a sustainable fashion.

Let’s Go Faster

China currently operates a relatively dull looking maglev train to Pudong International Airport in Shanghai. It’s capable of reaching 430 km/h, but you wouldn’t know from looking at it. Credit: Alex Needham, public domain

As the new world leader in high-speed rail, China has a bevy of projects on the boil to push its rail networks to ever-higher speeds. The China State Railway Group has released provisional specifications for its new CR450 trainset, intended to reach operational speeds of up to 400 km/h. This level of operation poses new operation challenges, requiring new standards for signalling and track monitoring systems. Additionally, a great deal of effort is going into reducing noise in the cabin; typically, a train travelling at 400 km/h is a full 3 dB louder than at 350 km/h. Testing has already seen two CR400BF-J testbed trainsets run in opposing directions at 435 km/h to determine any risks involved at high passing speeds. The world-record closing speed of 870 km/h was achieved without incident.

China is also investing big in maglev technology, which promises higher speeds with magnetically-floated trains while eliminating the frustrations of caternary wires, rails, and wheels. The Shanghai Maglev has been in commercial operation since 2004, and regularly attains a maximum speed of 430 km/h. It only runs on a short 29.9 km track, with a ride that lasts just 8 minutes. Regardless, it blitzes all rail competition in terms of regular operational top speed. The line was once slated for expansion, but regular rail services have stymied efforts to push it beyond its current run that serves Pudong International Airport.

China has more serious maglev ambitions, though, recently rolling out a test train reportedly capable of a 600 km/h top speed. The train is based on the Transrapid maglev technology from Germany. Initially expected to enter service by 2025, current plans for an operational maglev network remain unclear. Some commentators expect the new train will be used first on corridors between Guangzhou and Shenzhen and Shanghai and Hangzhou, where passenger flows are expected to be high enough to support the expense of constructing the advanced maglev “track.”

The L0 Series maglev holds the outright train speed record at 603 km/h. Concrete plans exist for it to enter commercial service before the decade is out. Credit: Saruno Hirobano, CC-BY-SA-4.0

While it lacks an operational public maglev line, Japan is perhaps still leading in this area. The country has developed the L0 Series maglev train, which currently holds the world speed record for rail vehicles at 603 km/h. Firm plans exist for a maglev network, with construction beginning in 2014. The initial section linking Tokyo to Nagoya was initially expected to open in 2027, though the start date for commercial service is yet to be confirmed. The Nagoya-Osaka section is expected to follow in 2037. Trains are expected to run at an operational speed of 500 km/h, shortening the travel time between Tokyo and Osaka to just 67 minutes. It’s a stark time saving compared to the 4 hour trip achieved by the first Shinkansen trains in 1964.

Australia has never built a high-speed rail line, though the Electric Tilt Train reached 210 km/h in a test run. Regular services are limited to 160 km/h. That places it firmly in the category of higher-speed rail, serving to highlight the national embarrassment that is the country’s rail network. Credit: John Robert McPherson, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Presently, Asia is streaking ahead with the latest technologies and the most railways, while Spain has cracked the code for cheap high-speed rail, both in terms of ticket prices and construction. Meanwhile, Morocco has brought high-speed rail to Africa, with countries like Iran and Chile eager to join the party. The US lags behind, with California taking its time to establish a run, but it’s on the way. Meanwhile, Australians chuckle as the idea is meaninglessly floated as a bullet point every time a new election rolls around.

Viewed globally, however, the future of high-speed rail is bright. It promises clean and efficient transit at speeds that are fast enough to make air travel less desirable. As the world looks to reduce emissions and move more people than ever, high speed rail promises to keep delivering. Japan, China, and Europe all offer a shining example of its value; those eager to have it need only find suitable corridors and the political will to sign the checks. Easier said than done!

Featured image: “CR400BF” by N509FZ.

73 thoughts on “The State Of High Speed Rail, And A Look To Tomorrow

  1. “German trains on the Intercity Express system are authorized to run at up to 330 km/h, but only to overcome delays on the Frankfurt to Cologne line. Otherwise, the national maximum is similarly 320 km/h.”

    I was about to laugh so heard, but thinking about the ICE took the fun out of it immediately.
    It’s too tragic too make fun about. There’s the accident of Eschede, the constantly failing technology and the low comfort. Nowadays ICE might be looking great on paper, but it’s fragile. It’s a sunshine technology. In winter, the ICE can’t move due to snow fall and failing heating, in summer it breaks because of the air-conditioning failing. Temperatures over 30°C don’t exist in Germany, apparently, as far as the engineers are concerned. Winter doesn’t exist, either. I kind of miss the ICE 1.0, which had a Diesel power generator for emergency. And it was comfy, with sleeper cabins, radios in the seats etc.*sigh*

    1. Probably all an effect of the Schienenfreunde” (“rail friends”), a cartel had who worked hard (and successfully) to sell the Deutsche Bahn outdated stuff at outrageous prices.

      Yes, I know the arguments: that the ICE can use conventional tracks, and the conventional trains can use the ICE#S tracks (no, they can’t, the ICE rail tracks are too steep for other trains), and the “Schienenfreunde” wanted to sell Schienen. So no maglev between Cologne and Frankfurt (they even had plans for maglev freight trains!).

      But knowing Deutsche Bahn, I guess they would have managed to run even a maglev late. Or running it completely empty, without passengers, because the connecting trains were late. Yes, leaving on time is important for Deutsch Bahn. Carrying passengers…not so much.

    1. I will never see true high speed rail in American in my lifetime.
      The joke called Acela is not a true high speed rail line.
      The fact that America is so vast and empty poses another problem.
      When I was a child, I imagined this one system, from California to New York.
      Straight as an arrow. The passengers would board the maglev, the train would move into an airlock.
      The air would be removed and then the train would enter an airless straight tunnel and go 2000 mph.
      There would be no need for signals or anything because it would only be the one track.
      The train would approach New York, slow down, enter another airlock that gets pressurized.
      Then the airlock would open and the train would enter the station.
      If such a tunnel were built, it would probably take years to evacuate all the air from it.
      Ah well, the dreams of a child. It might be fun to model it in Train Simulator.

      1. If China can do it, so can America.
        It’s just a matter of will, a matter of faith into a concept.
        Here in Germany, we had the Transrapid and we didn’t see its potential, or maybe, we did want to see its potential. China did.

        1. America has far more roads than China. Americans loved cars and traveling a lot meant a lot of road exists which meant multiple crossing for railroad.

          China weren’t quite into cars until a few decades ago, railroad were more preferable for long distance so China ended up with better railroad infrastructure and less rural road so it’d be fairly easy to build high speed rails. Plus Chinese government are a bit more forceful when it comes to buying lands and forcing people to relocate. USA has to go through legal system to deal with people who refuses to move and that can delay rail project and cost more.

          Many decades ago, Ford and Detroit was trying to expand rail system around and out west to near Ann Arbor. Their system started out between Fairlane mall and the nearby Hyatt hotel, different from the People Mover we have now. The project died because it would have been very costly to build elevated rail across hundred roads. The rail system was eventually dismantled and no longer exists except for some odd depression in the floor in the mall where it used to go through.

 shows a few pictures

          1. I think you’re conflating a couple different Ford projects. The fairlane town center installation was more of a technology demonstrator for a semi-autonomous people mover. Interesting project, but outside of some pie in the sky discussions it was never intended to scale up to anything beyond a small area. I remember riding it once as a kid, but the track was gone by the early 90s.

            (I wish I could find the source, but I recall reading that the system was controlled by initially a PDP-7, then updated to a PDP-11, but that source has long disappeared from my radar)


            Ford & Edison did have plans for an electrified rail network in SE Michigan, Perhaps reaching out as far as Ann Arbor. There are remnants in the area in the form of large art-deco ish concrete arches that are visible along the MDOT owned lines in and around Dearborn & Taylor. The concrete is apparently a wonder in and of itself, Edison concrete was insanely strong (or, more likely, just overbuilt. Old Yankee Stadium gave the demo guys fits, and those arches share some similarities in builder and vintage.)


          2. ‘The project died because it would have been very costly to build elevated rail across hundred roads.’ – It’s true that China doesn’t has as many roads as the US, hence, less rail crossing. But it’s terrains are mountainous with deep/steep valleys. Almost all its hsr runs on elevated viaducts (To preserve the agricultural lands), bridges (Crossing rivers, valleys) and through countless tunnels. It’s definitely more difficult n expensive than having rail crossing problems. Still China managed to build them. Tbh, your reasons don’t hold much truths…

        2. Germany doesn’t have a culture that glorifies willful ignorance and mysticism, and your schools actually do at least a half-decent job of teaching people… probably you don’t ‘reward’ those schools’ with massive budget cuts whenever a particularly nice success story happens, either.

          Not to mention, you’ve already learned your lesson about the path down which “patriotism just means blind fealty to leadership” so thoroughly that the whole world took note. A pity us Americans seem to have forgotten how all that worked out for you guys, even in-context… or we’re all just so dumb now that we don’t see how we’re arguably marching a similar path ourselves.

          Certainly we’re dumb enough that we think there’s something wrong with you if you don’t own your own car and want to — and to think that Amtrak is “good enough”. FFS, they’re so awful they can’t even be late on time most days.

          As for infrastructure… I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. “Not Just Bikes”. It’s a YouTube channel, and it’s the best class on infrastructure design I’ll never get at any college or university. Start at the first, oldest video, work your way to now… and try and ignore the hefty bias towards Amsterdam. I’m sure it’s a lovely city, but it’s not all that, not quite. (No offense.)

          1. @Carlos — I couldn’t agree more. A pity we can’t +1 posts, I’d spam the heck out of that on yours ;)

            If you scroll down, almost at the bottom as I write this (roughly quarter past 9am Eastern US time, 4 Aug), is another reply comment by me that will tell you just how bad things can get… at least, I *hope* they don’t get worse than that. Personal experience, no less.

          2. Amtrak is not ‘good enough’.
            It’s an endless waste of money and should be defunded yesterday.
            The parts that run at breakeven, privatized or sold off to states. The rest, scrap.

            I’ll say it again: ‘Not just bikes’ is run by a blithering moron. It’s funny how wrong he is, about just about everything.

            There is something wrong with you if you think you can wave your hands and turn low density small town into Amsterdam.
            There is something wrong with you that you want to. Hint: if you succeeded, you couldn’t afford to live there.
            Move. Get an old Civic. Your choice. Freedom!

    2. Well in my opinion (for what it’s worth) is that if you’re going to build a high speed train it must be grade separated, no road crossing, and if they were not accessible to the public you could even use the tracks to provide power instead of a pantograph. Anyway if you want to build really good high speed trains it’s going to cost a pretty penny.

    3. High speed rail does not have “grade crossings”- in the US, you cannot have a grade crossing over 110mph (175kph).

      IIRC: the French high speed system has 0 grade crossings (saw a documentary on the record setting attempts years ago).

  2. I’d just love for a 300km/h system to get built out over time on the coasts in the US. New England, Seattle-Tacoma-Portland, SF-LA-San Diego, maybe eventually link up the west coast lines. Just give me relatively easy to implement engineering now, with grades designed to enable future upgrades if the desire is there.

    From a greedy perspective, I’d so love to avoid Friday afternoon traffic trying to see my family, and be able to have fun on the way instead of stare at pavement.

    1. Lemme add to the wishlist:
      -a train to NYC that averaged more than 80km/h (50mph). At least I don’t have to drive.
      -a train to Toronto that didn’t have a 2hr delay for border crossing. Not worth it.

      1. What the hell is wrong with being herded off the train into the snow, at night in January at Niagara? You lot are just soft!
        (Doors froze open on my journey to Niagara Falls, not too far north of Syracuse. Snow drifts formes inside the carriages. Luckily I had my climbing sleeping bag, bivvy bag, and clothing with me. Must have been appalling for people who planned for a train journey, and not snow caving)

  3. “Spain and Korea run their respective networks at a maximum of 310 and 305 km/h respectively.”

    Meanwhile in Poland, two weeks ago it took me 17 hours to get from Gdynia to Kraków using PKP Intercity. Back was faster, “only” 12 hours. Had I known, I’d probably drive since that was idiotic waste of time.

    1. Just checked, it’s only 6 hours by car.

      Let’s say I want to go from my house to Paris. I first have to travel to the nearest city, takes an hour. Then it takes 5 hours with the train, 6 hours total. That excludes waiting times, delays etc. Takes me 5 hours with my car to drive to paris and I have my car with me.

      I’ve been to the US and used the train there to get from the airport to the hotel which was a direct line. It’s awesome in that case, but overall, public transportation is just terrible.

    2. Not sure how you managed to do that. I just had a comfortable PKP IC trip from Poznań to Kraków and back, 5h in one direction (via Katowice) and 6h in another (via Łódź). From Poznań it’s only 3.5h to Gdynia.

  4. “..China likes to run things a little faster, however… CR Fuxing trainsets..were the first models produced domestically without proprietary licensed technology from overseas manufacturers..”

    Its Called Industrial Spies


    1. It’s called “Technology Transfer”, it’s why countries like China (and the US) require foreign companies to manufacture such things as trains and aircraft locally, to kick-start a domestic industry.

    2. “Its Called Industrial Spies”

      … or “expired Patents”, since most technologies for high-speed trains on conventional tracks have been developed in the past century.

  5. “markets of the Middle East and America, high-speed rail networks are being planned, expanded, and upgraded” in the US high speed rail spends money and does very little else. California San Francisco to LA, authorized in 2008, has been sort of under constructionist since 2015. There is not train and construction costs have reached $200 million per mile. With about 119 miles sort of built there are only 680 miles to go. 680 times 200 million = nobody knows. If goes 220mph on paper on the new track and 110 on the multi-use segments. I think 110mph is the rating for nearly all continuous welded track in the US.

    Basically it collects tax money and gives it to the people who bought bonds for the construction. Oh, there are 24 potential stops and they are nowhere near the expensive part in the LA and San Diego regions.

    This is the story of high speed rail in the US.

    1. If you leave the unions and contractors out of your mental picture, you will never understand.

      CA HSR was authorized during a historic real estate crash. So did they spend the initial money securing all the easy to get right of way for the entire length, then leasing it back to fund buying still more land?
      Nope, never considered it for a second.

      They started right into building a useless track connecting Bakersfield to Modesto. Because the money HAD to get to the people who paid for the campaign to get it funded. The construction contractors and unions.

      Also the state doesn’t understand ‘sunk cost fallacy’. Once billions are spent their is no chance they will come to their senses.

  6. Train sucks in America because there is a serious lack of infrastructure to connect the rail system. You are going to take a car to train station, park, check in your bags, board train, train will stop at multiple stations because all the cities already have a station and they want a stop, you finally arrived at your destination taking as much time as a car would. You then have to look for a ride or rent a car to get to your destination. On your way back, do everything in reverse. Not to mention that public transits don’t like to abide to its schedule. Bus drivers are happy to leave a few minutes early as a F*U* for missing your connection.

    1. It sucks usually because there’s not enough quick passenger-only routes with newish trains on them. Or any at all, in most places. People think it’s like taking the bus because they’ve never ridden a good train.
      Last year, I went on a trip of ~2000 miles that required me to take a car to an airport, two hops by plane with a bit of a layover, then a 5 minute $15 taxi ride to the train stop and a final short car ride after that. I only had carryon. The train ride was the easiest part of all of that; I seriously overestimated how far ahead of time I should arrive, and it turned out I nearly took the wrong train because another one came just before mine and boarding was as simple as… stepping onboard. It wasn’t even a great train, and it still got there as fast as a car in typical traffic, while I got to relax with tons of room, a restroom, and a mains outlet for charging my stuff. It was like $15 for what would have been a $60-100 uber or taxi, and I got to take a few pictures out the window where the tracks crossed river bridges and stuff.
      If I could have taken a short series of high speed trains instead of the planes and taxi, I would have arrived earlier in the day, been far more comfortable, probably been better fed, and probably spent less money, while having seen more interesting views, just by not spending all that time in the airport not actually flying.

    2. Hmmpf.

      I am an American, but I live in Germany.

      When I go to visit my son (less than 200km or 125 miles away,) I have to consider which way to go to avoid the ever present construction sites and the traffic jams they cause – along with jams caused by too much traffic.

      On my last visit to the US (one year ago,) my wife and I drove over 700 miles without a single construction site or traffic jam on well maintained highways.

      On a different leg of the same trip, we had to take an unplanned detour because of a closed exit at a construction site on the highway.

      A blanket “US highways are crap” or “EU highways are crap” just doesn’t work.

    3. Auto-trains exist but they seem super rare. I would love to drive my own Toyota onto an Amtrak and just kick back and sleep for a few hours, get off in a new city and have my own wheels to get around.

      This seems to solve so many problems, why isn’t it more common?

      1. Because it takes about an hour each to load and unload all those cars, as opposed to passenger boarding which takes at most a few minutes. It only works if it’s a completely nonstop service that’s long enough for the extra time taken by the boarding/disembarking process to make sense. That cuts down the scenarios where it can work pretty substantially.

  7. Let me know when India starts using/building large-scale HSR. If there’s another country that (1) has as large an rail infrastructure, and (2) is building airports left and right anyway, I’d like to hear it.

  8. The problem with US rail is their attitude towards rail. Rail is seen as a horrible thing.
    Last year, I (from Europe), took a rail trip from Pittsburgh, to New York, Long Island, back to New York on the mainland and up to Vermont.

    Except for the rail bridge in Albany failing and having to take a bus (which was provided for us, with only 2hr delay), I saw a mostly fine operating system with normal people on it.
    The biggest problem is that rail is infrequent: one trip a day between NY and Pittsburgh is not enough, and judging the amount of passengers (it was fully booked) and inconvenient times, I think it could easily warrant an hourly connection – not everyone would do Pittsburgh-NYC off course.
    I think USA needs to have a shift in their view on public transit more than everything else.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. It’s awful here.

      By the way, if you want to know just how bad it can get… I live in a small town near the geographic center of North Carolina. It’s fairly rural, at least by East Coast standards. I legit cannot use the local public transit system because their attitude towards mobility issues is, if you aren’t so bad off that you need driver assistance (i.e., walker- or wheelchair-bound), your problems are your problems and not their problems, hobble faster or don’t bother calling to request a ride (by the way, it’s 48hrs minimum advance notice, cutoff is 11am… no exceptions).

      I have mild mobility issues, I can’t get out there fast enough. Half the time they don’t even park the vans where I can see them arrive.

      This is a clear and present ADA violation. I submitted a complaint… fun fact, that’s handled by the federal D.O.J…. I filed a complaint, and was told they had important things to do. I have no viable recourse whatsoever. Legal Aid is useless around here and I can’t afford a lawyer of my own. There’s no aid programs I qualify for to address this (because the local DSS is perpetually underfunded, and forever in need of a proctological craniectomy) and all my local friends are at least an hour away. I would literally starve to death if I couldn’t get InstaCart, expensive and lousy as it is, because I cannot physically get to a store to buy food.

    2. There is one train a day each way from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh (same state, Pennsylvania, PA). The PA Turnpike, i.e. the most direct route between the two cities now costs >$30 each way plus about a tank of gas. I would love to take the train because the state is rather beautiful and it passes the historic civil war era horseshoe curve. However, schedule and cost wise it still doesn’t make sense. I basically have to take at least one additional day off work to make this trip on the train.

      The northeast corridor or the Acela line which runs roughly from Washington D.C. to Boston with stops in Philly, NYC, etc is actually pretty good, but still could use a lot of improvement. It is functionally the only “Higher Speed Rail” and extensive electrified rail in the United States due mostly to the density of major metropolitan areas to support it and existing robber baron era rail infrastructure.

      Myself and a good number of my peers make a point of taking trains when visiting Europe and Asia. To be fair we do have more time on our hands by nature of being on vacation, but it is simply a much better and easier experience. I desperately want to take more domestic trains, but as it is now, I only use them in the Northeast corridor where they are run with enough frequency.

    3. The “problem” is the rail does not go where people want to go. The terminals are in the oldest filthy city cores or dangerous outskirts where you get painted with graffiti if you stand still too long.

      This is the basic problem in the US with rail and “light rail” in general. Populations and services shift and it is really hard or impossible to move the rail lines. It just isn’t practical, especially in the “Defund the Police” cities.

    4. Because it doesn’t really work. I live in the Netherlands and have the “best” western public transport system. I don’t use it. It takes forever, it’s expensive, if I can even get home using it. I’ve used it in the past but having to walk home for 4 hours because I missed the connection isn’t fun. And that’s in a tiny tiny country. About the size of Hawaii. Imagine in the US, where your neighbor lives 30 minutes away from you. Good luck using public transportation. Besides that, the US has tons of elevation, mountain ranges, etc, which just doesn’t work with trains. You need to keep it below 1.5 degrees if you want freight trains to use it. So you’d have to drill giant tunnels through mountains. Then you get the the destination and you need a car to get around. It’s just not practical. The US is just not optimized for public transport because of it’s geography. If it’s already a problem in a tiny spec of land like the Netherlands where everything is flatter than a ruler, how will you do that in a huge country with massive elevation changes? It’s just not an option.

      Right now the solution for the US is just simple, cars. It’s easy to drive from one side to the other in a relatively short time. The record from NYC to LA is currently 25 hours and 39 minutes. To do that with a train you’d have to take a train from NYC to Miami and then to LA. Might as well take an airplane. That’s besides the massive costs for the ticket. A train ticket like that would be in the thousands of dollars if not more. It’s just not realistic.

      The US doesn’t need to shift in their view on public transit. It’s just not an option. It’s not practical to change the system. There’s no upside for a country that size, with it’s current option, which already works.

      1. I actually respectfully disagree, Bob. In fact, some time ago, I had a fairly viable idea for a way to make rail-based mass transit that could connect nearly the entirety of the USA, at least comparatively well to that of the UK.

        It would be a public works project on the scale of that created by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which established the modern interstate highway system, so it would require either extensive use of government bonds or a temporary tax hike to cover the cost. Obviously it would also require considerable bipartisan support, but the fact that it would create jobs, at least for a number of years, in every single state in the nation, on a level roughly comparable, at minimum, to the old Civilian Conservation Corps, and would have a MASSIVE stimulus effect on local economies nationwide as it began to function, would probably help a fair bit with that… after all, lots of jobs is basically a ton of free votes in the pocket of any elected official whose jurisdiction covers that area, and that in this case would be basically the entirety of the US Congress, plus every state governor and their administration except possibly that of Alaska and Hawaii.

        Of course there’s still the usual political tribalism we’ve all become kind of used to, that really going kind of in the Clinton Era, but wheel grease is wheel grease, however slimy (or not) it may be.

        What’s more, this concept even avoids the typical land rights mess that such ideas usually get mired in, if they’re not shot down preemptively because basically we don’t really believe in public transit here in the US — with less than 30% of the population here, historically, having a passport, and even fewer actually using it, there’s just not enough people out there who truly understand how good it could be if we weren’t all backwards flippin idiots about it.

        Oh, and not only that, but it exclusively uses land that’s already public property already. An exception miiight need to be made for stations in some cases, but that’s by and large the exception, not the rule.

        Pity I don’t know anyone I could whisper in the ear of who’s both in a position to make it happen and who’d be willing to care… it genuinely deserves attention, I just don’t know anyone who could do anything useful with it.

        1. The problem is, this won’t work. Let’s say every politician in the US agrees, it still won’t work. Even if they abandon every other thing that taxes usually go to and put it to use for that, it won’t work.

          Quick example. When did the boring company start drilling? They are currently at the las vegas convention center with their drill. How much time did that take? That’s the most tech fueled company in the world in that field.

          Another example, at my work we are building a river through a desert right now, with the most advanced equipment you can imagine. It might be completed in 18 years and it’s not a long distance.

          There is no technology that allows trains, using steel wheels, to go everywhere with ease. It’s not possible to drill through a mountain easily, to change entire landscapes just for a train.

          I have experience with the UK train system and to be honest, it’s terrible. I’ve taken the train from Amsterdam to Moscow, from London to Paris, the Thalys, the ICE, you name it, I’ve seen it. I travelled all over Europe, northern Africa, the America’s and parts of Asia. I don’t know a train system that works right. I remember being stuck on a train for 8 hours because of some lightning damage somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Sweden. Do you know what you do with a car? you drive around the problem. I remember being stuck for 12 hours at the border of Austria and Hungary.

          Even if it worked, I still wouldn’t use it. Flying is at least fast. I hate flying. There are two nice things about flying, that’s the start and the landing, the rest is a nightmare. If I have to stay at least 3 times longer in a metal tube with a bunch of annoying smelly people, no that’s a disaster.

          Besides that, there’s the lack of freedom. I need a vehicle, I need to move around with it. I maintain my own car, I fix it when it’s broken, I build my own motorcycles from scratch, I drive them everywhere. I’ll take my custom chopper and drive it through some mud road through a forest, where no one can find me, with a tent and a gas stove on my back.

          Nah, it’s not it. Public transport is like bringing your broken device to a repair shop, while having a pinecil that’s still in it’s packaging. It’s just not right. Public transportation might be nice for the prisoners, living in the concrete prison, the city dwellers. The rest of us, who have hope for the future, want to move around, do things themselves, not be dependent. I want my next house to be fully off the grid, fully powered by solar and wind, starlink for internet, wood for heating, my own water source, a septic tank and a garage full of cars and motorcycles. I want to make my own diesel from plastic for a tractor, have a system to remove the ethanol from gasoline and enough shine for a lifetime. I want to live in peace, in freedom, away from people. I want to hack, from my car to my bike to my meal. I don’t want to live in a cyberpunk dystopia, where public transportation takes over.

          1. I mean… both is good. I can’t use a car, because of my disabilities. Relying on others who have cars… well, historically speaking that hasn’t proved viable where I live. No, light rail in and of itself won’t solve that problem — but it’s a step. Show people that it can be done right, and let imaginations loose.

            Sure, UK trains aren’t perfect, nobody’s are. But I’d about give my right arm for what they have over there, and I’m right-handed.

            Also, you’re thinking in the wrong direction. Tunneling is *hugely* expensive, potentially rather dangerous… and at least in the US, as I understand it, you still hit land rights problems (just that it’s so-called mineral rights instead of surface-use rights). Naaah, not my angle at all.

            We built the highways in the 1950s and 1960s, when my parents were young, right out of WW2. We had a HUGE population of people out of work then — all the soldiers who came home. We still have plenty of unemployment now, and a LOT of people who aren’t unemployed but may as well be, coz all they can get is bottom-end retail or fast food jobs where they’re arguably wage slaves.

            Jobs for butt-tons of people, in a way that provides *considerable* long-term economic stimulus — and it’s via government contract, so while it’s not DIRECTLY government (so they won’t get *all* the cush, for better or worse), those workers are going to be treated at least half-decently — free votes for all the politicians, and if you fund it all federally (which’d be VERY reasonable, that’s how the highways were done) you’d not have to worry about follow-on shenanigans from state governments too caught up in political tribalism.

            Two and two and two makes six. Everybody wins.

            Also, private vehicles are still completely legal after this, so you get to keep your forest-going custom motorcycle. Personally, I’d like to think you have some semblance of noise control and fuel efficiency on that thing, but knowing the sort of folks where I live, who put kids on four-wheelers and let em ride each other around the yard when they’re barely taller than the tires — I know quite well better.

          2. Wanted to add one more thing. I’ve traveled the UK quite a bit by train, and considerable parts of Western Europe as well, if a bit less so. (More that I kind of ‘ht the highlights’, as it were, On The Continent, whereas I’ve been to a number of cities and small towns throughout the UK.) Also, for HaHa’s sake, a point of clarity — since they seem to get, erm, confused easily — I live in North Carolina, born and raised.

            I have to say, I’ve not had at all the sort of experience with UK *or* EU trains that you have. From the London Tube to UK’s National Rail, smaller branch lines within the country, up to Edinburgh, even across the Channel Tunnel on the TGV (the food was AMAZING, I should mention), a few trains here and there through Europe… even a brief stint on Amsterdam’s trams (I wasn’t that impressed, TBH) I really can’t complain about any of it. I know the Underground has a reputation for unreliability, but when you consider that it’s a literal railway under the Earth, and the sort of passenger volume it has, along with network size and density, I’d say the reliability it has is actually something of a testament to the dedication of its workforce. I’ve not been to NYC nearly as much, simply as a matter of taste, but I kind of wonder how favorably the NYC Subway compares.

            By way of contrast, I spent two weeks straight, basically, on Amtrak once… I was in high school, had just blown the school’s history test out of the water (even though that was the year they’d dropped “passing” to 35% because of how hard it was) and had no sense of scale whatsoever… Amtrak had a deal and Mom could pay for it, so away we went. I don’t think they were less than an hour behind *once* in the entire trip, and for the most part, the trains were… not exactly an endurance, per se, but certainly nothing I care to remember. Mind you, we paid for *Business Class*, which is a step up from Coach. (I’ve heard stories about Coach, yikes.) Probably the record was rolling into Albuquerque NM from… I think San Diego CA? no less than FOUR HOURS LATE.

            I really don’t think it’s hard to do better than *that*, nor that it ought to be unreasonable to ask for it…

            By the way, as I see it, *far* more the problem here is people like HaHa, who seem to believe that the proper direction for ‘progress’ is backwards at full tilt. I politely disagree.

          3. You don’t get to define ‘progress’ starhawk.
            Progressives/commies have that problem. Want the politics of 1920s, think it’s ‘progress’, as defined by Marx. Ignore 100 years of history. I digress.

            You need to move. It’s real simple. You’d be happier in a studio apt in a dense city. You get nothing from open spaces. Will be BAD neighborhood.

            Spend your life bitterly bitching about your town not being Amsterdam, or move to someplace a little more Amsterdamish. Your choice. Life is a compromise.

            The Dutch, almost certainly, won’t take you.

        2. You can disagree with someone while still being nice and explaining your position. Let’s keep this comment section nice. I don’t agree with him but at least I’m acting decent and come with arguments.

      2. I just looked at the Amtrak website. There are several routes from NYC to Los Angeles, and they go through Chicago, nowhere near Miami. Coach seats for the 72 hour trip are under $400.00, private rooms $1300 or more. Buy tickets a month ahead or you may not be able to get a seat.

        I’ve found Amtrak pleasant, but I’m not young and 72 hours would be miserable. That and it’s weird to have the conductor trying to sell magazines other people have left behind.

  9. The “Chinese” maglev is a Transrapid. They’ve used that same style since their first test ones in the 1970’s. Dunno what the deal is with the two vertical windows in front.

    The next image, the L0, is another really old shape. ISTR seeing both in the 1976 book Supertrains
    by John Gabriel Navarra.

    I’d assume the technology within the vintage outsides has been through several revisions.

  10. This is a great overview. Few years ago, to get from Brussels to Paris (cca. 300km) took me 1 hr 43 mins for 20 EUR (booked in time with Thalys). The TGV (also a Thalys operated version) would have been 90 EUR in 1 hr 25 mins. Up to 250 km/h with conventional trains (rail-wheel type) the costs can be reasonable, beyond it the physics shows its power unequal. This reminds me the case of Concorde, that wasn’t reasonable at all. Maybe Maglev will be the winner.
    Anyway, conventional train operators usually have 5 enemies. The 4 seasons and the passengers. Based on the non-representative set of commenters it looks like it’s true worldwide (maybe except Japan).

  11. Oh yay! High speed taxpayer-funded COVID incubator-spreaders. I can’t wait to don my useless mask and wait in line for hours only to show my up-to-date useless but mandatory COVID vaccine passport that permits me to board.

  12. I’ll have to check out that Gene Roddenberry film.
    The Seattle area right now is building a light rail network. It’s an interesting project to watch.
    However, since I don’t drive, public transportation is pretty much what I am left with.
    If I want to go to Seattle without my wife driving me, that is my only option.
    The bus system here is quite good, but nothing beats taking your own car as it is door to door.
    I have taken the Empire Builder cross country 4 times and it was nice. You could sit and stare out the
    window, walk the train, sit in the dining car and have a meal. As for me, I had a wonderful experience.
    I sat in the car where you could see the scenery go by. I chatted with ham operators across the USA.
    You meet some nice people on the train, and the trip is one where you don’t have to worry about driving.
    You actually get to relax and see some of the country you’d have never seen otherwise.
    Sure some of the things you’ll see are in industrial areas, but there are some very beautiful parts of the USA.

  13. Reply to That one guy…

    One of the reasons the old Yankee Stadium was abandoned was that those impressive arches decayed and started falling into the audience seating area. On a game day, that would have meant fatalities.

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