Let’s face it: train’s kind of suck in America.
They’re slow, expensive,
and just don’t exist in many parts of country.
The simple reason for this is because the US is so sparsely populated.
暂且不谈这里 这里 这里
Aside from here, here, and here,
cities just are not close together
to make travel faster or cheaper than plane travel.
When cities are within 200-300 miles of each other,
it’s often faster to take a train from downtown to downtown
相反坐飞机要开车到机场 检票 安检 起飞 再从机场开到市区
rather than driving to an airport, checking in, going through security, flying, then driving downtown.
然而 就像我说的 美国许多城市之间的距离
However, as I mentioned, there definitely are regions in the US with cities this distance
with cities this distance away from each other, so why do trains still suck?
The United States has the geography to support trains in certain areas
and yet a train from DC to New York costs at least $49 dollars
and takes 3 hours and 29 minutes, only 30 minutes less than driving.
A train from Rennes to Paris, France, a very similar distance, costs 27 euros,
the equivalent of 30 dollars, and takes only 2 hours and 4 minutes.
The US does have one high speed train, the Acela express,
but it costs at least $120 dollars for a ride from DC to New York
and still take 2hours and 50 mins.
Turkey, Poland, and Uzbekistan all have trains
that travel faster than America’s fastest train.
Alright, so understanding the whole issue requires a bit of background knowledge.
Back in their heyday, railroads in America were… amazing.
We built our first in 1826 and had a transcontinental line by 1869
only 19 years after California even became a state.
Trains travelled almost everywhere and most historians agree that
the development of railroads was an absolutely crucial catalyst
to the American industrialization period from 1843 to 1860.
They even prompted the US to create one of the world’s first standardized time systems
as discussed in an old video of mine which you can find here.
While passenger trains could sometimes be profitable,
freight services were where the real money was
so most rail companies basically ran passenger services
as a mobile advertisement for their freight services to the executives
that would decide which company to ship goods on.
Trains were, after all, the most glamorous and efficient way to travel.
However, as cars became popular in the 30’s and planes became popular in the 50’s
there was little purpose any more to set up passenger services as advertisements
to executives who would be taking the more trendy car or plane instead.
At this point, the few profitable passenger services only made money
because of their contracts with the US Postal Service.
Most trains would have one car that serves as the railway post office
an offices on wheels where workers would sort letters enroute to the destination to save time.
In the 1960’s, mail sorting was mechanized, trucks and planes began to transport letters,
and railway post offices were discontinued.
It became essentially impossible to make money with a passenger railroad.
By the end of the 1960’s the only thing keeping the few passenger routes alive
was a legal obligation by the Interstate Commerce Commission
for the train companies to keep running those routes.
But then Amtrak came along.
In 1970, President Nixon signed into law the Rail Passenger Service Act
which formed the federally funded national rail company
that promised to save and make great again passenger rail travel… except it didn’t.
In the United States, a nation of 319 million people,
Amtrak operates a mere 300 train journeys a day
while in France, a nation of 66 million people,
the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais, also known as SNCF
operates 14,000 trips every single day, 800 of which are high speed.
One common criticism of Amtrak is its unreliability.
On average, only 72% of Amtrak’s trains arrive on time.
The California Zephyr route from Chicago to San Francisco
even arrived on time a paltry 31% in June of 2016.
So what does Amtrak blame the delays on: freight trains.
You see, Amtrak only owns 730 miles of the 21,300 miles of track it operates on.
On the California Zephyr route, Union Pacific owns about half the track
and BNSF owns the other half.
According to Amtrak, only 1.4% of all delays on this route were their fault.
The other 98.6 percent were reportedly the fault of the rail companies who own the track.
Union Pacific will naturally lend priority to their own trains on their tracks instead of Amtrak ‘s
so Amtrak trains are often told to wait to let a freight train pass.
after all Amtrak can go used competing tracks
so there is little incentive to give priority to passenger trains.
Most rail operators in Europe don’t have this problem.
In France, for example, the national rail company owns all the track
so priority can be given to passenger trains.
Also, only 8% of freight in Europe is moved by rail
compared to 38% in the United States
so there are far fewer freight trains congesting the tracks.
Since Amtrak is so young, they never got the theopportunity to build their own tracks.
The Northeast corridor—which is absolutely perfectly shaped
to have a high speed rail network with five major urban centers located on a straight line
bulit up it’s rail system in the 1800’s
and the railroad had such an impact that
town and people flocked to the area around it.
For that reason, this area is incredibly densely populated
and there truly is no open space between the cities.
Consequently, it would be unbelievably expensive to raze a bunch of houses
and build a new straighter route of high speed tracks from DC to Boston.
Amtrak says that it would cost an estimated $151 billion dollars
to build tracks up the spec of France’s high speed rail network in the Northeast corridor.
Since the Northeast Regional, the train running between DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia,
New York and Boston, is one of the few routes that makes money,
there is little incentive for Amtrak to sink a lot of funds into upgrading the tracks.
Additionally, American cities just aren’t built like many European cities.
with population densities averaging lower than 15,000 people per square mile,
cities in the United States are far less walkable than their European counterparts
which can have as many as 55,000 people per square mile.
Due to their ancient roots, European cities naturally developed compact urban cores
since for all but the rich there was no option but to walk everywhere.
Given that, it’s much easier to walk to your destination
from a train station in the European city than it is in an American city.
It’s believed since most Americans have take another form of transport
to get to their destination after taking the train in America,
they see the train as not that much more convenient they than the plane
where you also have to take another form of transport to get to your final destination.
So what’s the solution?
How should America fix it’s rails?
Well, unfortunately, we’ll probably never get
a big network of fancy high-speed trainslike in France or Germany.
There are dozens of plans in the US to build high-speed rail lines,
however few if any of them will likely come to fruition.
There is a high-speed rail line currently being built
between Miami and Orlando by aprivate company called All Aboard Florida,
however, with a top speed of 125 miles perhour,
the service will only be slightly faster than driving
due to speed restrictions on many parts of the route.
The state of California is also building a high-speed rail line
between San Francisco and Anaheim
with a estimated transit time of 2 hours and 40 minutes
which would be less than half the driving time between the two cities.
Despite construction already beginning,
phase 1 of the project isn’t estimated to be completed until 2029
and public support is diminishing
Many have proposed that America shouldn’t
be concerned with building a flashy high-speed network.
Amtrak’s 151 billion dollar proposal for a true high-speed northeast corridor system
divides down to $320 million dollars per mile or $60,000 per foot of high speed track.
What would be far more efficient would be to upgrade current track
to allow trains to operate at their top speeds.
On the Northeast Regional route, trains reach a top speed of 125mph briefly,
and if they operated at that speed for all of the DC to New York leg,
the trip from DC to New York would take only slightly longer than two hours.
Small improvements can cut minutes from the journey times which can add up to hours.
Unfortunately, Amtrak is stuck in a rut where they have no money to improve anything,
which causes low ridership, which worsens the problem of no money.
SNCF in France is so great
because taxpayers pay for about half of the operating cost of every journey,
while Amtrak is designed to be a for-profit yet
government subsidized corporation.
Right now, Amtrak is kinda like the neglected little brother in the US transit family
who doesn’t get any money, and until that changes,
we’re still going to have our slow, expensive trains.
Thank you for watching!
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