Why European Trains are Better than Ours

I ride Amtrak a lot and, from time to time, I’ve run into fellow passengers that were or are citizens of European countries.

Normally I’m not a very talkative person with strangers but, sometimes the subject of the differences between European and US passenger rail has come up between me and these aforementioned seatmates. As a geek, this is subject matter that I can actually get interested in.

Anyway once I ran into this guy from the UK who disagreed with my perceptions of the superiority of European rail technology. He said that service on British Rail sometimes really sucked. I argued that that was beside the point. The key thing is that UK passenger trains go much faster than US passenger trains and this is the only thing preventing the revitalization of US passenger rail as a medium haul commuting option. One only needs to think of the TGV in France to understand this gap.

He didn’t get it. He didn’t seem to understand our mania for speed in this country. This is surprising since it is likely that he’s taken a few rides on US airlines. The service sucks and the cabin is cramped but we don’t care as long as the planes get us someplace fast.

And Europe, and for that matter Japan, get a key side benefit: Because trains are fast and very common in Europe and Japan, that means fewer patrons of airports which vastly reduces traffic congestion (which essentially destroys much of the time savings for medium haul airflights.) and pollution (because more people are moved for less fuel.).

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