China has the fastest and largest high-speed rail network in the world. The country has more than 19000 miles of high-speed rail network, the vast majority of which was built in the last decade. Japan’s bullet train can reach up to speeds of almost 200 miles per hour – the top speed of Lamborghini Gallardo. Apart from these two countries, there are countries like India, Russia, Iran where there exists a huge railway network.
In the countries with the developed railway network, railways have become the staple for domestic travel. In Japan, the railway has transported more than 9 billion people and that too without a single casualty!! In India, the railway is the lifeline of people for the daily commute. As of 2019, overall 23 million passengers use the railway on daily basis in India. The high-speed rail network is spreading rapidly across the world in places like India, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, and Morocco.
But, in the US, the railway network is not really as huge as it should have been, after all, the United States has the most powerful economy in the whole world!
The United States used to be one of the world’s global leaders in rail, but after World War 2 there was a massive shift. If we look at the US prior to 1945, there existed a very extensive rail network in every state. So, what happened after 1945?
After WW2, a huge increase in the number of oil and auto companies was seen. Companies like General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil, and a few companies were the front-runners. But with an established rail network, these companies were finding it very difficult to succeed as the majority of the population preferred a train over a private vehicle.
Thus, all these companies got together, and collectively they were able to buy up the majority of the nation’s streetcar systems. After purchasing, they started to phase out service and literally dismantling the majority of the network over a 10-year span. Even the central government prioritized a road network over a rail network. In the 1950s, President Eisenhower signed a bill to create the National Interstate System. The plan was to build about 41,000 miles of highways and about $25 billion were allocated.
Ever since a huge amount had been dedicated to building automobile infrastructure. Over the years, the US went from a rail-served country to an auto-dependent nation!! They average some 850 cars per thousand inhabitants. In China, this number is around 250.
According to many, the country’s transportation ecosystem is reaching a tipping point. There are states across the US that have recognized that they don’t have more places to expand their highways or interstates. There are limits at the airports, there is an aviation congestion factor to be kept in check. So, there aren’t many options left. A better rail system is one, and it comes with significant benefits!!