U.S. not dense enough for high-speed rail? Think again

A comparison of population density and high-speed rail in the US and Europe

Low population densities are often cited as the reason why high-speed rail would never work in the United States. While it’s true that typical American metropolitan areas sprawl far and wide, many larger cities are still relatively dense, and a surprising number of our states are as dense as some European nations. California, for example, has just over 90 people per square kilometer (234 per square mile), while Spain has 88 people per square kilometer (231 per square mile). Given the success of Spain’s rail system, it stands to reason that California would be fertile ground for high-speed rail.

It’s probably not a bad argument to make, and one that sheds some light on why the Obama administration directed money toward certain states for rail upgrades. Ohio and Florida—both of which unfortunately rejected rail funding—are about as dense as France, a world leader in high-speed rail.¹ Illinois, Virginia, and North Carolina sit one density level down, but are on par with Spain and Austria, both of which host high-speed rail. As a state, Illinois may be a poor example since 75 percent of the state’s residents lives in the Chicago metro area. But if you look at the wider region—from Milwaukee to Detroit to Toledo, with Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati not much farther away—you can see where the Midwest upgrades were headed.

Despite many regions with densities favorable to high-speed rail, only the Northeast Corridor hosts true high-speed rail, the Acela Express. It serves a relatively small fraction of the country. While the Northeast Corridor is most crowded in the U.S., many European nations have proven that high-speed rail can work at much lower densities—densities which are seen across the U.S.

  1. In fact, Florida’s population lives more densely than France’s.

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  1. As someone who lives in CA, it would be nice to see HSR. It would make going from Sacramento to LA or San Francisco much easier and probably slightly cheaper than flying (I would hope). In any case, there are many people who site the fact that they don’t take rail is because of its speed (or lack of). So I’m a little bummed that we haven’t stepped up our public transportation options. If they were upgraded they would be used more often.

    1. I completely agree. Having to take the L every day in Chicago, I’ve seen firsthand what happens when you let rail infrastructure deteriorate. Trips take twice as long as necessary.

  2. The real issue is metropolitan density. State-level density is pretty unimportant. People in Europe tend to live and work in more compact cities. HSR is a very attractive option when you can easily walk or take a short transit trip from the station to your business meeting. When your business meeting (or home) is tens of miles out in an office park (or subdivision) that can’t be well-served by transit, then driving or flying may be more attractive options.

    1. I thought about that as well, but I’m not so sure it’s all that vital, either. Airports are relatively isolated, and many of them require the use of cars on both ends. If HSR is meant to compete with air travel over shorter distances—which I think it is well suited to do—then city density may not be that important.

      1. but when you are representing the population density across an entire state like Texas, you are misrepresenting the actual area of the state that HSR would benefit. the entire western half, and much of the far north and far south have little population density at all. it would only be the central and eastern parts of the state, which is much smaller geographical region than the entire state.

        same with illinois. it shows up a shade of blue meaning ‘hey lets build HSR there across the whole state!’. but in reality only the chicago metro area, milwaukee-madison, and NW indiana would benefit. again a much smaller geographical region than counting the entire states.

        1. That’s very true. This map isn’t ideal, but represents the “worst case” scenario, in a way. If states like Illinois and Texas have an average population density that is similar to European countries that have HSR, then the U.S. should definitely be fertile ground for it.

      2. Agreed. I think urban density is much more important for normal commuter rail than for its high speed equivalent. Admittedly, HSR seems to only flourish in places where there is extensive commuter rail, so the two may be interconnected in ways that make urban sprawl a problem for HSR as well. But if it possible to introduce HSR as a substitute to air travel, then it might not matter.

      3. In Texas, the three major population centers (Dallas/Ft Worth, Houston, San Antonio) form a triangle with Austin lying along the San ANtonio/DFW leg. The cities are 200-250 miles apart. HSR was suggested in the 1980s, but lobbying efforts led by Southwest Airlines, then a regional carrier derailed the funding. The trip from Ft Worth to San Antonio now is about 240 miles. It takes about 2.5 hours to go the first 200 miles and about 2 hours to go the last 40 miles due to freight congestion. High Speed Rail would work quite nicely in the triangle. When SW Airlines was first formed, it could serve the triangle with just 6 planes, one leaving each location every 30 minutes in each direction. Back in the 70s, the cost was $15. It changed the face Texas transportation. High Speed Rail along the triangle would have the same effect in Texas.

  3. And one thing also worth pointing out from the other graph(s) is that in Europe many very sparsely populated countries have had high-speed rail for years. For example, say, Finland, with population density of less than 20/km2 has very nice InterCity service, connecting major (relatively speaking…) hubs; and is rather inexpensive, convenient service. Like having nice restaurants, kids play-car; much MUCH more convenient than airplanes, with much less hassle.

    These very same false arguments on low population density are repeated ad nauseaum with various things: cell phone service — which low-population-density nordic countries had much earlier than more densely packed ones, even in Europe! — and now mass transit.

    1. This is an excellent point. I noticed that as well. Russia, too, has HSR service over a long distance between two cities—something very similar to what we’d see in the U.S.

  4. It would be more meaningful if the density was shown at the county level. For example, Colorado may have a relatively low density but Denver has a high density.

    1. Make that the whole of the front range from Fort Collins to Pueblo. 175 miles and probably 80% of the population.

  5. First off, old cities are dense in a wholly different way, with narrow streets and no place left to build. Part of the reason mass transit is much more successful in the east than the midwest is not just because of its own positive aspects, but because driving is so much less efficient of a means of travel in those places. I could not imagine living in New York and owning a car. I have tried to get around Columbus, Ohio, without a car, and would rather be in New York and forced to drive myself everywhere I went.

    Secondly, the true barrier to high-speed rail always has been and always will be public perception and opinion. In the case of Ohio, the governor’s rejection of the HSR money was widely popular. People didn’t want money that would half-build something the state had neither the funds nor the interest to finish, and which had little real application.

    Ohio may look good for HSR when you pick some very specific numbers that prove what you have already decided to be true, but the state is incredibly poorly suited to HSR. Toledo is “eh” as cities go. Detroit, a little further north in Michigan, is dying. Cleveland to the east is dead. The only real strong population centers are Columbus and Cincinnati. You can drive between them in about 1.5 hours, and they are both sprawling cities with poor internal public transportation that would take millions of dollars to update. To get from the center of Columbus by bus to some areas just inside the outer-belt can take almost two hours. You can bike the same distance in a half hour without breaking a sweat. Or, you can drive between the cities and have a car when you get to either end, allowing you to drive from one end of the city to the other in 20-30 minutes even in rush hour, rather than spending more time to get around either city than it took to get there in the first place.

    In the cases of longer distances where you would present HSR as an alternative to air travel, you will have to first sell the idea of building hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure to fill a need that is already filled by airlines, which, by the way, have very strong lobbies and barely get by as it is between government bailouts. I am not saying breaking the airlines is a bad idea, just that we’ll probably win the war on drugs first.

    What America needs is an American solution. Imitation has never worked for our country. We need innovation. HSR is a great concept that works very well, but our reality is one of sprawling urban centers that are often left with little countryside between as subdivisions and strip malls rapidly fill in the gaps along transportation corridors. Americans love their cars, because Americans love their individuality. An effective mass transit system for the U.S. will have to be an original thing, unlike anything anyone else would have ever thought of, that will embrace rather than condemn the American love for individual choice and freedom of movement they associate with their cars (you can make arguments about traffic jams until you are blue in the face, it’s not about numbers, it’s about perception), and find a way that allows people to 1) feel they retain some level of control over when they come and go 2) works as true mass transit both in terms of efficiency of movement and efficiency of resources, and 3) works within the reality of existing infrastructures and transportation networks that make building effective mass transit systems in many midwestern cities look like a Herculean task akin to pulling out a crooked river until it is straight.

    We need to stop looking at what others are doing and asking, “Why can’t we do that?” and instead look at what we want and need, and build something better than anyone else has ever conceived. It’s what America does, and it’s the path down which or most promising future lies.

    1. There are many points to your reply, Benjamin, but I’ll respond to one right now while I have the time. High-speed interurban lines are an American invention. Though Japan systematized HSR with the Shinkansen, the U.S. had streamliners running many years earlier between cities at speeds faster than Amtrak runs today. So HSR is, in fact, an American invention. We just forgot about it.

    2. Americans LOVE to pull crooked rivers straight! They have straightened, channelized, etc all across the country!

  6. It seems like the biggest reason not to expand the rail system is not population density, but cost. When you look at the European rails, all of them are heavily subsidized by their governments and I don’t think I need to remind anyone of all the debt the U.S. has.

    1. We would have plenty of $ for infrastrcture if we didn’t spend trillions of $ on defense. Also, HSR with auto drive on/off like a ferry, would combine the best of transportation worlds. No need to rent a car or worry about lack of available public transportation at your destination city. Would also save on gas/oil because fewer travellers would be driving or flying between cities.

      1. “Also, HSR with auto drive on/off like a ferry, would combine the best of transportation worlds.”

        If every passenger on a train brought their own car, how many passengers do you think it could carry? Furthermore, can the train still go at such a high speed if it has to be of such a size and shape that it can carry a fleet of SUVs — never mind the weight of all that cargo?

  7. I don’t think it’s just a matter of density, (though I do think it has some part) but other issues regarding population and land use.

    a) Many countries listed are small in comparison to the USA. As a result, the federal government can easily build a HSR system in the country, while it seems the USA wants HSR to be initally a regional rather than a national network. I would think it’s easier for the feds to cut through red tape, than for states to work in coordination with each other.

    b) Local level transit is rather disappointing in many cities. Some places you might need to go are out in fancy suburb towns with no local transit options to get there from the train terminal. You’d have to rent a car or find a ride. Some cities have confusing bus route systems (look at Houston for example) that aren’t too friendly. Not to seem elitist either, but it’s not uncommon to see rather uncouth passengers on board, that have rather nasty odors and take salvaged garbage onto the bus with them. I try to take transit, since I don’t have a car, but stuff like that makes me avoid the bus and prefer to find a ride instead.

    c) There’s the government trust factor too. For many, it seems the government has had more programs with failures than with successes. HSR is a pretty big deal, and people are going to already expect huge cost overruns, later-developing engineering issues, expensive tickets, terrible maintenence, among other things that people tend to associate with even local transit projects.

    I think if anything, HSR would be successful if it was an entirely national system (see Amtrak’s profitability with NEC Acela), local transit in major cities improved by tenfold, and the government in general could perform much better than they’ve ever been. This is how America used to be in its heydays, and that’s what will win people over even today.

  8. Ther Governors of Florida and Ohio understood what many HSR boosters don’t: the federal money wouldn’t have covered the full cost of construction or for operating the system once it’s built. The taxpayers of those states would have had to pay for the inevitable construction cost overruns and to operate it, which could easily run into billions of dollars.

    The European systems are subsidized and they were constructed by governments.

  9. I am a European living in the US, and I love HSR, but I can fully understand why voters would reject these projects. Beyond high population density, there are other issues to consider:
    1) As other commenters have raised, the East Coast cities have EU-like public transport networks, often with Acela stations at the nexus. Many business professionals take the bus/train into the city center, and can easily get to a station to board the Acela to Boston/DC/NYC.
    2) In Europe, car ownership rates are much lower than in the US, and running a car is 2-3x as expensive as in the US. I think it is fair to say that a higher proportion of the population are compelled to rely on public transport to get to work, or to travel long distances. People without cars are willing to pay to travel long distances by HSR
    3) US highways are frankly better than those in the EU. I would venture to say that the average speed on US highways is actually faster than in the EU, because EU trucks and buses are slower. EU high speed trains compete very favorably with local highway networks, even in Germany, which has one of the best highway networks in the world.

  10. This seems like a really silly issue. If a nation is “dense enough” to support airports, it’s dense enough to support HSR. If it’s “dense enough” to support super highways, it’s “dense enough” to support rail.

    The mistake America will make is that we will build HSR, but not local rail. Heck, I bet we won’t even build them side-by-side or make multipurpose (and very carefully scheduled) use of HRS tracks.

    1. “This seems like a really silly issue. If a nation is “dense enough” to support airports, it’s dense enough to support HSR. If it’s “dense enough” to support super highways, it’s “dense enough” to support rail.”

      This is nonsense. Read Patrick’s comment above. In addition to the points he made, I would point out that European cities and towns are simply much more compact than American ones. There are many more people living and working close to the city center. That makes it much easier to connect offices and housing to the central train station with public transport. It also means there’s much less parking space available in European cities than in American ones. These factors, plus the higher cost of gasoline in Europe, the lower rate of car ownership, and the cost of motorway tolls (common in Europe; rare in the U.S), make driving between cities a much more attractive option in the U.S. than in Europe. The only place HSR even makes marginal sense in the U.S. is in the northeast corridor, where our cities have more European-like layouts, densities and public transport.

  11. The costs of high speed rail, in most cases, does not come close to matching the benefts. In the best case scenarios it gets a tiny percentage of people off highways and a slightly higher percentage out of planes. The only time it really makes sense is when there is very high traffic between two cities between 100 and 300 miles apart, with both cities having either a really good intercity transit system or very dense work areas, and then only if the tacks can support truely high speeds–150mph and up. There are very few places in the US that meet those requirements. The transit needs represented in most of the projects approved by the Feds a couple years ago would have been better met–at a tiny fraction of the cost–by busses.

    People have latched onto HSR through some sort of ideological/psychological process and it has become one of those symbols that know one can really figure out what it symbolizes until 20 years later.

    There are a lot better things to spend that money on (if we still had that money): Improving and expanding current viable rail HSR corridors, intercity transit between suburbs and workcenters, rebuilding cities and suburbs to make them more dense, research into–as the commenter above suggested–more fruitful types of transit, expanding the use of railroads to carry freight (getting more trucks off the highway)….

  12. I’m curious about the assertion that a city needs to have robust local transit in order for HSR to be successful. A lot of airports are poorly served by local transit, yet are still successful (I’m looking at you LaGuardia, Pittsburgh International, Charlotte) Here in Pittsburgh, the public transit arrives once an hour to take you the 17 miles to downtown. Once you’re there, you’re on your own since the rest of the network is so poor.

    One person earlier mentioned how HSR would never work in Columbus because the local transit is bad…. Well what does she/he do when arriving at Columbus airport…. just hang out in the airport the whole time? Of course not, you rent a car and go about your business.

    I’ll be taking Amtrak from Philadelphia to New Haven in August. There is an Avis rental car office in the New Haven station, I pick up my car and drive off to my office. It’s not difficult.

  13. I thought I would add that infrastructure, especially larger scale projects like HSR, need not only respond to existing land use patterns, but they also alter land use patterns over time according to their own function. America’s “sprawling metros” are not universal truths, nor are they derived straight from the American soul or whatever. They are a product of prior policy decisions to invest in infrastructure that favored this pattern over other patterns. There’s no reason to think HSR would have a different effect.

  14. This is kind of flawed because of the density of European cities. People over there that live in the city are less likely to have cars because A) Gas is much more expensive B) Big Cities are denser, harder to find parking, but easier to walk around C) Those cobblestone streets in places like Pisa and Florence have got to be murder on a car D) Cars are not as much a part of the European Culture as they are in the USA.

    Because the people are less likely to have cars if they are taking a 300 mile trip then they won’t be driving. And for a short trip like that a train is much more attractive than flying. Especially if you are starting or ending out in the middle of nowhere. Trains can service many more places, and more rural places, than planes.

    But if an American is taking a 300 mile trip, he is likely to drive.

  15. It’s interesting to see this analysis, but it’s still just scratching the surface of what’s going on. What really matters is the *linear* population density along the routes you can connect with rail, rather than areal density. Rail networks are great for people living near the tracks, where terminals can be built, and not so useful for others further away. So the appropriate exercise is to compare European rail *corridor* population densities with US candidate rail *corridor* densities. You would probably have to do some sort of utility-weighting based on distance from the track (e.g. utility falls off as the square of the distance from the nearest track/terminal?).

    And that still doesn’t cover the importance of network effects when you can link together progressively larger swathes of population: linking NY to LA might never be economical (even ignoring the challenging mountains of the West) because there’s not much utility to such a hypothetical line in the middle of the country. Consequently, the largest networked populations you could realistically wire together without incurring huge costs for vast depopulated segments would be that of the Eastern US/Canada and another separate network of the Western US/Canada. These networks will be much smaller in population when compared to the European network, which doesn’t have a sparsely populated geographical middle (in fact, taking Belgium/Netherlands as the center, it has a clear advantage by this criterion).

    My guess without doing the math is that the network disadvantages in the US will be more important than its (I’m assuming) somewhat lower corridor density. As pointed out in a recent TED talk by Geoffrey West, the advantage to increasing network size in the form of cities (and I would assume conurbations, since HSR effectively wires together larger population clusters more closely) scales super-lineally, so linking together 100M people in the US is going to be a lot less than 4x as useful as linking up 400M in Europe:


    Anyway, just some ideas off the top of my head. Nice blog by the way.

  16. “Given the success of Spain’s rail system.” Spain’s system is incredibly expensive. Only in the north it works. Same with Italy.

    It is most successful in France though. Many French from the cities know each and every city in their country and it affected their whole way of living.

  17. “High speed rail”, whichever flavor of it one refers to, is not made relevant/useful/desirable by density alone.
    One has to take into account the downsides, failings, and costs; and in contrast to my observations so far, one has to have someone in the project who will actually say something true, relevant, and proportional about the supposed benefits, and people who will actually listen to them and respond to what they bring up.
    My several exposures, and one very deep lengthy immersion, in light rail made it crystal clear that at least some rail projects are in every sense as crooked, destructive, wasteful, unhelpful, and flagrantly counterproductive as any military contract ever parodied in a comedy movie.
    A perfect example: Tri-Met’s spokesperson Mary Fetch explained why they chose (small) $900 garbage cans for the Interstate Max route through North Portland instead of the larger $300 garbage cans already obiquitous throughout the city. And I quote: “because they look more futuristic”. Order of $10,000 on _one_ line, for _garbage_ _cans_ to look _futuristic_?
    When you look at the entire Interestate Max program one quickly realizes that the project itself was exactly as extravagant, wasteful, and as much literally an exercise in fashionable arrogance on the part of the city/metro as that on-the-record-comment by their official spokesperson.
    And _every_ comparison of bus service down that route for the 20 years that I road it (time to destination, time to board, frequency of running, convenience of payment, actual load, potential maximum load capacity, non-fatal accidents, distantce to walk to stops, distance to walk just to legally cross the tracks, fatal accidents, environmental damage, and . . .) to the 7 years Max has been on it; _all_ paint rail in an very bad light.
    In some places (e.g. Prescott, Failing) they not only closed the cross walk across the track but the cross walks _paralleling_ the tracks, so one has to walk a block _AWAY_ from the tracks, to cross a street, walk another several blocks to the one that has a cross walk, then walk another block _BACK_ toward the tracks, cross the tracks only to repeat the same dance on the other side just to (legally) proceed 60 feet across the road. _EVERY_ time a light rail proponent or city/metro/county planner discusses such things they _explicitly_, _repeatedly_, refer to them as “upgrades” or “improvements”. Yes, _8_ more blocks _just_ _to_ _cross_ _a_ _street_ is an intersection “upgrade” which “improves pedestrian access”. And frankly, I’ve never seen such folks discernibly more honest in much of anything else they say.
    The most extravagant of differences due to the Interstate Light rail attrocity though was the entirely gratuitous destruction of 60% of the road capacity that was still fully useable (and in use) _while_ busses were carrying more people, more often, cheaper, safer, to more convenient stops, than the choo choo does now; down the _same_ path the choo choo uses now, were still running. The difference? $300,000,000 which could have bought, put natural gas in, and maintained a _fleet_ of busses for _DECADES_ to provide much, much, better service over the same route. And that $300,000,000 wasted is just the fraction of the cost that they admit to.
    There are places and forms of rail that make sense, but the one in Seattle where they asked for money then squandered it to deliver a small fraction of what they promised, the mess in Denver, the catastrophe in North Portland, the insane tiptoeing mess of the Portland-Hillsboro line, all call out for adding some initial bits of honesty and fact based consideration to the decision making process which have been entirely absent in at least the Portland process.
    And don’t get me started on the fact that, or the reasons behind the fact that, for 200+ years now people have been flocking _from_ the paradises on Earth which have so many choos choos everywhere _TO_ this horrid backwood were we don’t. Is it just, perhaps, possible that someone can miss the fact that all three of causes of greater choochooing, realities of greater choochooing, and the motivations/procedures that result in greater choochooing contribute to or at least go along with, the motivation of so many tens of millions of people to LEAVE and STAY AWAY from ‘the choo choo’ heavy paradises?

    1. n b, I’m sure garbage cans aren’t a direct consequence of light rail. It’s pretty clear that you don’t like trains, but I can tell you from experience that trains offer a far more enjoyable ride than busses. Plus, service is often faster since they typically don’t share rights of way with cars.

  18. Hey guys. I have enjoyed your comments and posts about an American Transit system. I was wondering if yall could help me with something. I am doing a project on Transportation in America with a focus on rail systems. where they would work/will not work, and a demographic breakdown of people who use them in comparison to the successful systems in Europe and Asia. feel free to email me at richard.s.boland@gmail.com if you have any ideas or resources that i could read or use.

  19. I was on a “rebuild New Orleans” transportation committee after Katrina. HSR cannot work because here in the US the many little burgs it passes add up to an overwhelming constituentsy that will not stand for massive project absorbing their tax dollars for the benefit of so few. In Europe where people had little say, they are taxed out of owning cars due to the EU making more “profits” on gas than the greedy Oil companies or they outright own the oil co. (ELF in France) Leaving them little choice but to take the train. Americans will never stand for its Government to tax gasoline $5 per gallon thus HSR is never going to happen here. Its also a “solution” looking for a problem, who is demanding it? other than a bunch contractors and politicians that will never give up their cars.

  20. Excuse me, but i live in Sweden and we do not have high speed rail. Construction of HSR is barely even being discussed. This makes me question the facts of this article.

    1. Eurail, SJ, and Wikipedia all state that Sweden has high-speed rail. While at 200 kph it may not be as fast as other European HSR systems, it’s fast enough to be considered HSR in the United States.

  21. Love the infographics – came here for the city/population one (very neat) and stayed to browse.

    The question with high-speed rail is more around how much it costs after, how terrible the building costs will really be (not the lowball phoney baloney estimates), etc…..

    Ever try to take the DC metro to Tyson’s Corner? You can’t. And you never will be able to.

    I hate me some traffic jams, but at least you can get places that aren’t planned since 1982.


  22. I live in El Paso, Texas. It’s far away from everywhere, has a population of 700,000 (not counting Juarez, and covers 250 square miles. There is talk of extending the “high speed” rail being used from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, into El Paso and, possibly Juarez. The problem is the city transit system is horrid. I lived in the northeast part of town and taught in the lower valley; distance of about 15 miles. Using the transit system, the journey would have taken nearly two hours. Using my car it took, at most, 20 minutes. Others have already pointed out this little fact. The other thing to think about is nearly EVERY transportation system in the world; be it subway, buses, trains, or some other device, has to be subsidized by the government because they cannot afford to charge lower prices. Factor in the cost of these systems and you’ll see why most Americans don’t want them.

  23. Area density is one measurement, but car density is another. i think the U.S. car density is large, so fewer people would take HSR even if it existed because they would have to use a car at each end or taxi or bother the people you are visiting. And nothing beats a car for baggage and cost for a family over 3 or 4. A final unnerving thing. In an age of terrorism nothing is easier to pop off a track than a 150MPH 100 ton hurtling train.

      1. I agree, and I have used trains and some HSR systems in 40 years of international travel as an Aerospace Engineer and they were very comfortable and effective. But as a veteran I couldn’t help thinking about their vulnerability. So it must be considered especially in the U.S. because we are the target for now.
        If we build a 25,000 mile HSR system, just 2 acts of terrorism and people will revert to cars and the HSR system is a waste.
        if just 0.1% of a ‘population’ are potential terrorists thats about 1.5 Million people to worry about and nothing is easier to bewitch than trains on a 25,000 mile grid.

        1. 1) There is also terror in countries with HSR. In fact, since 9/11 Europe has suffered much more from terror than the US, including train bombings in the UK and Spain. Yet people still take trains there. Why would the US be different?

          2) As a aerospace engineer, surely you are aware that airplanes are more vulnerable to terrorism than trains?

  24. any one who has seriously studied Japanese high speed rail will recognize the futility of such in most locations within the USA! High speed rail is mass transportation and we are almost exclusively private/individual transport because mass transport is only feasible within truly densely populated locations where people have access to mass transport via leg power, e.g. WALKING True mass transport would collapse immediately due massive parking requirements at terminals! AND, You don’t intermix self and public transport for that reason. Further, Just look at airport parking lots in larger cities! Air transport is our best compromise for fast export between cities and where mass transport is necessary it currently exists such as in New York City The main push for high speed is from politicians trying to save their phoney highly paid jobs in support of wasting tax money on a futile, highly impractical approach!!

  25. “America’s passenger rail is a global joke, but our freight rail is the envy of the world, carrying over 40% of our intercity cargo. Trains carry much less of Europe’s freight, which is why trucks clog Europe’s highways.”

    — from: US Freight Railroads are the Envy of the World | TIME.com http://business.time.com/2012/07/09/us-freight-railroads/

    The United States has the best rail system in the world — for freight. The US carries more freight and a larger percentage of its freight on rail than nearly any other country — and freight railroads are (now) all profitable, private companies. This explains more than anything else the difference between rail in the US and rail elsewhere. No country has succeeded in building a successful rail system for both freight and passengers because each requires different qualities. A freight rail system requires reliability, high tonnage capacity and lows costs, but not high speed or a smooth, comfortable ride. A passenger system requires first and foremost high speed and a smooth, comfortable ride, but does not require high tonnage or low cost (only medium cost, though some will pay more).

    For the US to have a passenger rail system like Europe’s or Japan’s, than the US must either (a) move more freight onto trucks and rebuild the entire current freight system to fit a passenger rail system or (b) build an entirely new, parallel passenger rail system. The Acela system in the Northeast (which really isn’t high speed rail, just higher speed rail) is in essence a passenger rail system. Few freight trains use those rails.

  26. It isn’t just the total population density, it’s how the population is arranged. To win a majority vote in the legislature, the train has to be routed through a majority of legislative districts. So in California, the high speed rail route is planned not to go directly from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a cheap route with few cites, but rather to detour across the state to the east to hit small cities on the way. This dramatically increases the cost and also the length of the trip. The state also requires non-competitive union labor, which secures union support. I think if a direct route were facilitated, the construction could be privately funded.

    High speed rail fares are about as much as air fares. The advantage is getting directly into city centers. Many American cities, e.g. Los Angeles, are so spread out that riders would end up having to rent a car anyway.

  27. “Given the success of Spain’s rail system”

    And it also has bankrupted Spain to the demise of a number of government services, like healthcare. Don’t think Spain would be a positive example for you.