While America’s leaders fiddle around and our rail seems to go down in flames, Europe is strengthening its rail system. Two interrelated items to consider:
- High-Speed Trains are expanding in Europe and are cutting travel times.
- European train systems are combining in an alliance program to be better positioned to fight discount airlines.
Well, in the United States, rail is not totally ignored. PlaNYC: A Greener, Greater New York has some rail elements and Minnesota has bills being considered in the legislature for bonds to build high-speed rail to Chicago. These, however, are isolated elements and not showing a national focus on developing integrated high-speed rail for providing high reliability post-Peak Oil intercity transport. In Europe, on the other hand …
Let’s start with expansion of high-speed trains. According to the Washington Post’s travel section, “While the United States quibbles about subsidies to keep Amtrak lumbering along as is, Europe is vastly expanding its network of high-speed trains. Four new high-speed routes will open this year:”
- June 10, TGV East in France will begin covering 20 French cities and destinations in Germany, Luxembourg, and Switzerland at speeds of 199 mph. The Paris to Frankfurt trip will be less than four hours, down from today’s six. (For other reduced travel times, check out the list on the TGV East Train Ticket online booking service.)
- Eurostar between London/Paris and London/Brussels will fall by about 20 minutes (over 10%) this November with new high-speed tracks.
- Spain’s AVE trains have cut Madrid/Brcelona travel time from 7 to 4.5 hours. With new tracks, this will fall to 2.5 hours by the end of 2008.
- Brussels-Amsterdam travel will cut in half, from 3 to 1.5 hours, by the end of 2007
As the Post notes
High-speed trains now operate on 3,034 miles of track in 10 European countries. At least 1,711 miles of track will be added by 2010.
But, can rail compete with the discount airlines?
According to Der Spiegel, a consortium of European rail lines is forming “Railteam”, with planned benefits like Star Alliance frequent-flyer miles.
“The budget airlines have created the impression that they are faster and cheaper,” a Swiss rail spokesman told Handelsblatt. “We want to combat that idea.”
The combatants include the German, French, Swiss, Austria, Dutch, Belgian, and English Eurostar rail systems.
Eurostar head Richard Brown says the alliance will provide a “really attractive and effective alternative to the more environmentally damaging, short-haul airlines.”
Coming to this December, the partnership seeks to position rail for a dominant position in intra-European travel.
And, well, back in the United States … Amtrak remains a distant third for most Americans, well behind our cars and airlines.