US High-Speed Rail Service Ranks Lower Than Turkey & Uzbekistan


A new ranking of high-speed rail networks from GoEuro, a travel search engine, puts the U.S. 19th out of the 20 countries assessed. According to the survey, the U.S. ranks below Turkey and Uzbekistan. Like all surveys, this one may have some flaws in its methodology. It emphasizes the percentage of the population that has access to high-speed rail travel in each country, which makes sense. High-speed rail isn’t much help if most people can’t use it. By that measure, the US ranked next to last of the 20 countries in the survey. Only 3.7% of Americans have access to high-speed rail service.

high speed rail service

But the second criteria is the maximum speed possible on a country’s trains. That factor is far less relevant than the number of trains within a country that offer high-speed rail service. Grist argues that it is far more beneficial to have 10 trains that are capable of travelling at 150 mph than one train that can go 250 mph.

By rights, the US shouldn’t have been in the survey at all. High-speed rail is defined as being capable of speeds of 150 mph or more. Only a tiny portion of the Northeast rail corridor between Boston and Washington, DC, is capable of such speeds. People in China can travel from Beijing to Shanghai — a distance of 819 miles — in 5 hours. Taking Amtrak roughly the same distance along the East Coast of the U.S. from New York to Charleston, S.C., takes more than 13 hours. That is assuming the train is on time, which it seldom is.

High-speed rail leaders Japan, South Korea, China, and France are ranked as the top four nations. Spain, which is persistently economically troubled, ranks fifth. None of these countries has as high a GDP per capita as the U.S., so the problem in America isn’t lack of resources, it’s a lack of political will.

“After a half century of neglect, America now has a railroad system that the Bolivians would be ashamed of,” wrote James Howard Kunstler, in 2006. “There isn’t another project we could do that would have a greater impact on our oil consumption than fixing our rail system and restoring passenger service.” Ten years later, little has changed. Republicans in Congress have become virulently opposed to funding high-speed rail projects, preferring to divert funds from the national treasury to help pad the pockets of their friends in the oil business and sell arms to our friends and enemies alike.

In a day when air travel has become about as pleasant as a colonoscopy, a modern high-speed rail system would attract millions of riders. Airplanes are some of the worst polluters on the planet. Not only do they burn millions of gallons of fossil fuels every day, the inject their carbon dioxide emissions high in the atmosphere where they have little chance of being absorbed by the earth. High-speed rail could be an important part our national plan to reduce carbon emissions across the United States.

Photo Credit: Germán Saavedra Rojas, Some Rights Reserved

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  • jack

    Everyone else doing it is the wrong reason. We need traffic busting solutions badly, but HSR isnt necessarily the best fit. Lets be real and honest for once.

    • Steve Hanley

      So, be real and honest with us. What do you recommend?

      • James Johnson

        Greed rail, for a country $20 Trillion in debt. California is paying for its Sin Rail the Brown Streak with corporate inversions divesting this state like a bad habit. Good luck ?

  • AaronD12

    Hopefully HyperLoop will get off the ground (no pun intended).

    • Steve Hanley

      I thought it was a pretty good pun! The HyperLoop sounds appealing, but it has immense technical issues. And building it so people can get in an out of city centers will cost boatloads of money. Less, perhaps, than building a rail corridor, but still enough to make the finished process extremely costly.

      We shall see, eh?

  • Rick Danger

    If the entire population of the US lived in the state of California, high speed rail would be feasible like it is in Japan.
    I, too, have hopes for the hyperloop.

  • John Love

    Question: why does the focus at this point have to be true high speed rail? Europe had good conventional rail before high speed was implemented. I’m a fan of improved conventional rail. Therein a market for high-speed develops, and the public is served by decent rail service NOW.

    Come to North Carolina. Regarding the Raleigh to Charlotte corridor, the state actually gets it. Service is improved, and yearly ridership has gone up by 100,000 compared with just five years ago.

    • Steve Hanley

      An excellent point, John. Here in the northeast, we would be happy if the damn trains must ran on time! The railbed in our area is so old and decrepit that the trains are limited to as little as 35 mph along some segments.

    • James Johnson

      John, maybe you just are not aware or made an incorrect statement, but Europe still by and large uses Conventional Rail. Known in most countries as regional rail. As a matter of fact the tickets are very affordable and most of the time you only sacrifice just a fraction of time. California already has this in place too I might add.

      • John Love

        Yes, I am aware Europe is still by-and-large conventional. I didn’t mean to minimize that fact. What I meant was that good conventional rail opens the market, where appropriate, to high speed rail. Conventional is the bones where a high speed spine becomes necessary or desirable. The error of US thinking is that conventional must be supplanted by high-speed in order for a system to be high-performance rail. I like a lot of the conventional improvements Obama’s high-speed rail money (and I’m a Republcan) implemented in Virginia, North Carolina, Vermont, and Massachusetts. The systems are simply better-operating and more fluid now.