What changes in US history or culture are necessary to make rail travel as popular as in Eastern Europe?

Dec 2017
801
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#11
What are the changes necessary in US history after the 19th century to make rail ridership in the US per capita as high as say, Russia, Poland, or Spain? I know that low population density for the US has often been cited as a reason, but this does not explain low rail ridership for Amtrak east of the Mississippi, where the population density is relatively high, and where population density resembles Russia East of Urals, or countries like Spain, Poland, and the Balkans, which also have relatively low population densities compared to Western Europe, but have significantly higher rail ridership per capita compared to the Eastern part of the US.
Low train fare in comparison to air fare in the past. Now, air-fare is affordable but people still like traveling by train. I am writing about Russia. USA also has large territories. It's difficult to imagine Hungary or Romania operating domestic airlines. The territories of the countries are too small.
And a good rail network.
 

macon

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
4,019
Slovenia, EU
#13
There are two types of train travel; long distance and daily travel. Long distance train travel has been permanently supplanted by air travel for virtually everyone and is dead and buried barring a catastrophe of some sort.
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Mid distance travel of 100-500 kms can be faster with fast trains which go over 200 kms per hour because of a boarding times for planes.

I think that USA is got no fast trains. I'm pretty sure they would do fine on the eastern coast between Boston-New York-Philadelphia-Washington. Also on western between some big cities. But for eastern-western travels planes are better.
 
Likes: Edratman

Edratman

Forum Staff
Feb 2009
6,688
Eastern PA
#14
Mid distance travel of 100-500 kms can be faster with fast trains which go over 200 kms per hour because of a boarding times for planes.

I think that USA is got no fast trains. I'm pretty sure they would do fine on the eastern coast between Boston-New York-Philadelphia-Washington. Also on western between some big cities. But for eastern-western travels planes are better.
Mid-distance travel, say 200 to 1000 miles, by train has some appeal. The greatest positive factor for this distance rail travel is the time it takes it takes to get through the airport. 50 years ago when I started traveling for business I felt comfortable at mid sized airports arriving 15 to 20 minutes before the scheduled ETD. At that time, if the drive time was 3 hours I would investigate flying. Today a drive of 6 to 8 hours is almost certain to be more convenient and quicker than a flight through the Philadelphia airport.

The problem with even mid distance rail travel is that the train tracks limit you to travel to locations along a single line. Transferring at main stations offers only limited additional destinations. On the other hand, airports are not physically constrained and may offer destinations around the full 360° of the compass.
 
Likes: macon
Jan 2010
4,439
Atlanta, Georgia USA
#16
You might be right, but the interesting thing is that I still see railroads carrying goods within my area (as in, within several tens of miles from my area). Thus, it looks like railroads haven't completely fallen out of use in regards to this--at least not here in southern California.
In the US, railroads are ideal to carry goods. The rail system should be organized around that, rather than pouring billions into passenger rail so that those who get all misty-eyed when they hear City of New Orleans can feel good about their government while flying from LA to NO.
 

royal744

Ad Honoris
Jul 2013
10,582
San Antonio, Tx
#18
Mid distance travel of 100-500 kms can be faster with fast trains which go over 200 kms per hour because of a boarding times for planes.

I think that USA is got no fast trains. I'm pretty sure they would do fine on the eastern coast between Boston-New York-Philadelphia-Washington. Also on western between some big cities. But for eastern-western travels planes are better.
When the Interstate Highway System was built starting under President Eisenhower, it was the death knell for passenger rail travel in the USA. Passenger rail in any event west of the Mississippi was quite slow. The motorcar came along and it was a shot across the bow of passenger rail, but national highways were poor until the interstates were built. Only on the East Coast (and then only in parts of it) is passenger commuter rail profitable and desirable. Long haul passenger rail (Amtrack) probably hasn’t been profitable in the US for quite some time. But if you want a slow and relaxing way to dawdle across the country, Amtrak is good.

The US is not Europe with its small distances between major cities and national capitols. Here most new suburban houses have at least a 2-car garage because public transportation is considered slow and inconvenient and convenience (“instant”) is super important to Americans. Taking long vacations by car - “See the USA in a Chevrolet” - was a long-standing American tradition which may make a comeback with the rising inconvenience and hassles of air travel.

It helps of course that the US has the cheapest gasoline in the world by far (excepting Saudi Arabia and a few others).
 
Last edited:
Oct 2013
14,533
Europix
#19
One of the reasons isn't the car/truck itself but the cost of fuel (if I'm not mistaking, generally speaking in Europe it was always quit higher than in US).

Another contributing factor is that in a lot of places, cost and difficulties difference between building a highway and a rail weren't that big. Plus, the European cities being a bit narrower, it pushed for generally smaller cars, that aren't that comfortable on long distances. That created a different mentality.

In a lot of European countries, for long periods of time, rail was a national affair, a national level policy thus the rail net was differently planed (as the strict economic efficiency not being always the primordial factor).
 
Likes: Futurist
Jun 2017
2,908
Connecticut
#20
What are the changes necessary in US history after the 19th century to make rail ridership in the US per capita as high as say, Russia, Poland, or Spain? I know that low population density for the US has often been cited as a reason, but this does not explain low rail ridership for Amtrak east of the Mississippi, where the population density is relatively high, and where population density resembles Russia East of Urals, or countries like Spain, Poland, and the Balkans, which also have relatively low population densities compared to Western Europe, but have significantly higher rail ridership per capita compared to the Eastern part of the US.
Our political system having been entirely different from the start, checks and balances are a disaster for the efficiency of large scale projects. Passing Internal improvements has always been a royal pain in this country at the federal level and at the state level, the improvements both aren't as sweeping and require too much approval. Much of the development of the US was passed through Congress cause the opposition quit to found their own country. This included the authorization to build the transcontinental railroad. People also attack these sort of projects as "pork" and people don't want to fund things that don't benefit their own constituents, everyone drags everyone else down.
 

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