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Why are European rails better than American?


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  • 4 weeks later...

The question I really want to ask is:

What makes European rail systems better than those in America?

It wouldn't all fit in the title though. :)


There is no simple anecdotal answer to that question. In part, it lies in the fact that Europeans do not have quite the space Americans have, that and the fact that they are much more effecient with the use of the space they do have. Cities, suburbs and small towns are built with human proportions in mind, not cars.

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Do you mean the entire rail system or just the high-speed portion?

i guess that answers part of the question. In most Western European countries there is a vast network of rail systems: from subways and commuter rail on the local level to inter-city conventional rail and high speed rail between major population centers.

part of this modal emphasis is due to geography -- most trips city to city are close enough that the extra time necessary for air travel negates air's speed advantage.

The closer geography, and until recently, the much lower degree of car ownership make rail a vastly favored mode in Europe.

Since there is greater emphasis on rail it has had more consistant support and funding.

In Europe high speed rail travels largely on dedicated, purpose built track -- generally this means: superelevated curves, no at-grade crossings, welded rail, electrified lines, double track, in cab signaling, little to no co-use with freight, etc. These characteristics combine to produce and average speed in the 185mph range.

In the US, even in the Northeast Corridor many of these principles are not applied. While Acela has a max. speed of 150mph it only travels at this speed for 18 miles during the entire trip from Boston to Washington. this speed is usually constrained by track geometry since most NEC trackage was built in the late 1800s and early 1900s and electrified between then and the 1960s.

Outside of the corridor most Amtrak trains travel at less than 79 mph, share trackage with freight and are single track, which means that with stops and other delays factored in rail travel is much slower than automobile travel.

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  • 1 month later...

I read an article on why the old rail lines throughout LA. The reason is because the rail companies just went bankrupt. They were greedy. The train cars were always late, they were uncomfortable and fares just kept on going up. People were fed up with the system and went with private automobile when they had the oppurtunity.

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  • 4 weeks later...

"They didn't have GM lobbying Congress to tear out all their streetcar systems mid-century"

That isn't really how it happened. The truth of the matter is, of course, MUCH mroe complicated than that.

There is a GREAT book out on the subject matter. It is called "getting there" The author's last name is Goddard.

it follows the rise and fall of the railrod industry, as well as the rise of the Automotive industry.

Streetcar systems failed due to many factors: operating costs, corruption, labor disputes, as well as legislation that required that power companies sell their streetcars. Congress never had any dealings with GM in regards to the streetcar systems. GM, though a front company, bought the systems on the open market.

The railroad industry was hated in the U.S. due to their monpolistic policies, massive corruption, and control over the economy. People viewed the automobile as freedom. The automotive industry did an amazing job of controling public and government opinion of their products.

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America is bigger in size, so passenger travel experienced its biggest growth with aeroplanes, while in Europe passenger trains were more efficient: when travelling a shorter distance check-in times and distance to the urban centres from airports become a factor.

That's changing now though, with check-in times as small as 15 minutes for some regional airports. In fact, Europe will probably overtake the USA when it comes to air travel. A lot of budget airliners are operating these days and railways are struggling to stay alive except for local travel within a 250 mile radius, like the NYC-NJ metroliners. Everyone is flying here these days.

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I think the answer lies with government. Our federal government never pushed to support rail links between major urban areas and instead bowed to auto and airline lobbyists with phat pockets of cash. Not to mention geography plays a role. The US is big, and to connect cities by rail means long ass train trips, which people are mostly unwilling to take. If a rail system is to succeed here like in Europe, it must be based on better, high speed technology, and Amtrak nor the Federal Gov't will not fund a venture such as that when the prospects of profitability are lack-luster.

More or less, the infrastructure was already in place in Europe. The landscape is built more centrally and in an urban fashion where rail links can serve as transportation hubs. Sprawl is basically non existent. Less people have cars there too.

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  • 5 weeks later...
  • 3 weeks later...

I think the answer lies with government.  Our federal government never pushed to support rail links between major urban areas and instead bowed to auto and airline lobbyists with phat pockets of cash.

Exactly. We had alot of cash to spend and a fear of post war depression, so hence the Eisenhower Interstate Highway Act (or whatever, 'defense' roads etc). Road building and adjacent construction have been a key cog in America's economy. Europe on the other hand had much less money and instead chose to reinvest in rail.

There could be a cultural thing as well that can be missed. Ppl still argue about it, but things are more community oriented in Europe (perhaps going back to higher population densities per limited land area) whereas in america we seem to take the individualist stance. Not that im raining on that particular ideology, but it would help to explain why americans 'will never leave their cars'. People can be outright paranoid of anything/one who doesnt closely match their own socioeconomic background. A good case study: MARTA and its various expansion plans shot down by folks who simply didnt want anything to do with a system that could bring, *gasp* those people into their neighborhoods. Druid hills comes to mind, numerous times.....

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  • 6 months later...

The infrastructure for rail travel certainly was not there "in the first place." Most of the rail infrastructure was completely damaged after WWII, and had to be rebuilt during the 1950s and 60s. At the time that the U.S was holding the middle finger to anything that didn't involve gas guzzling, Europe was busy putting in rail lines as an efficient way to travel.

As far as getting from place to place on high speed rail, the experience is quite nice. I just recently took an ICE train from Munich to Cologne, Germany, and it was quite comfortable and we were travelling around 200mph at some portions of the trip (between Frankfurt and Cologne).. the rest of the trip was done around 100mph.

The fact of the matter is, is that European rail lines, for the most part, are just like Amtrak. I would argue, actually, that Amtrak is much cheaper and the amenities are better than DeutscheBahn or TrenItalia (Or Austria's line for that matter).

It cost around

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