Planes, Trains, and Automobiles! Part Two: Trains

Welcome readers!  Today we will continue our foray into commuter transportation options, this time with commuter rail. 

For this analysis, we are going to look at the spread (or stagnancy) of high-speed rail.  High speed rail is a much-ballyhooed form of transportation that is gaining in popularity, specifically in Eurasia.  Due to the high speeds (upwards of 320 km/hr, or 200 miles/hr) and high efficiency (high speed rail, once constructed, uses less BTU/passenger mile than airplane or automotive travel) high speed rail is becoming more prevalent throughout the world.

But who is the leader in this phenomenon?  Let's take a look at the top nations in high speed rail constructed through 2016.

Whoa, that is stark.  As it turns out, China has almost eight times as much high speed rail track constructed as the next closest nation, Spain.  Let's try that again without the outlier.

This is a little more revealing.  As it turns out, Western Europe has several countries leading the way in terms of high-speed rail (Spain, Germany, France, and Sweden jump out), and Japan has a fair amount as well. 

What happens when we bring the size of the countries into the analysis?  If we look at density of track by size of the country, we get a different picture.

When size of the country is brought into play, some of our mid-table countries in terms of total mileage look much better.  The number one country in this metric is actually Taiwan, with South Korea, Germany, and Japan close behind.  Given the size of China (third largest country in the world), the fact that it ranks 13th is fairly impressive.

So why so little high speed rail in our very own USA?  Well, there have been numerous studies done to look into the impact of high speed rail on carbon emissions, the most common reason cited for implementation, and it is not as clear cut as one might think.  While the actual transportation itself is more efficient than auto or plane, the construction is somewhat of an ecological nightmare. 

In order to secure the structure for high speed rail, most design plans utilize a great deal of concrete, the creation of which is a major source of carbon emissions.  There is also a feeling that Americans would be hesitant to grab onto high speed rail, due to the stigma of public transit.  Will the calculus change?  Only time will tell, but it is certainly well on the way for other countries.  Below is a table showing planned high speed rail mileage by country.

The future is here...for some.

Author: Chris Bick