Today, 14 countries offer some sort of high speed rail system as an alternative to automobile and plane transportation. By 2014 experts say high-speed trains will be operating in nearly 24 countries, including China, France, Italy, Japan, Spain and hopefully the United States.
“The rise in HSR has been very rapid,” said Worldwatch Senior Researcher Michael Renner, who conducted the research. “In just three years, between January 2008 and January 2011, the operational fleet grew from 1,737 high-speed trainsets worldwide to 2,517. Two-thirds of this fleet is found in just five countries: France, China, Japan, Germany, and Spain. By 2014, the global fleet is expected to total more than 3,700 units.”
France in particular accounts for about half of all European high-speed rail travel. HSR reached an astounding 62 percent of the country’s passenger rail travel volume in 2008, up from just 23 percent in 1990, thanks to affordable ticket prices, an impressive network, and reliability.
In addition to being more reliable than planes or personal vehicles, high speed rail offers measurable environmental benefits as well. A 2006 comparison of greenhouse gas emissions by travel mode, released by the Center for Neighborhood Technologies, found that HSR lines in Europe and Japan released 30-70 grams of carbon dioxide per passenger-kilometer, versus 150 grams for automobiles and 170 grams for airplanes.
Currently, high-speed rail in the United States currently consists of only route: Amtrak’s Acela Express runs on the Northeast Corridor from Boston to Washington, D.C. Unlike Asian or European systems, the Acela shares its tracks with conventional rail, and thus is limited to an average speed of 68 mph.
But plans are underway for the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) to build an 800-mile statewide system that will link a handful of major metropolitan areas — Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego chief among them.
Image Credit: Flickr – Thad Roan – Bridgepix