Why Trains Suck in America?

 They’re slow, expensive, and just don’t exist in many parts of the country. The simple reason for this is because th US is so sparsely populated. Aside from here, here, and here, cities jus aren’t close enough together to make train travel faster or cheaper than plane travel. When cities are within 200-300 miles of eac other, it’s often faster to take a train from downtown to downtown rather than drivin to an airport, checking in, going through security, flying, then driving downtown. However, as I mentioned, there definitel are regions in the US with cities this distance away from each other, so why do trains stil suck? The United States has the geography to suppor trains in certain areas and yet a train from DC to New York costs at least $49 dollar and takes 3 hours and 29 minutes, only 30 minutes less than driving. A train from Rennes to Paris, France, a ver similar distance, costs 27 euros, the equivalent of 30 dollars, and takes only 2 hours an 4 minutes. The US does have one high speed train, th Acela express, but it costs at least $120 dollars for a ride from DC to New York an still takes 2 hours and 50 minutes. Turkey, Poland, and Uzbekistan all have train that travel faster that America’s fastest train.

 Alright, so understanding the whole issu requires a bit of background knowledge. Back in their heyday, railroads in Americ were… amazing. We built our first in 1826 and had a transcontinenta line by 1869—only 19 years after California even became a state. Trains travelled almost everywhere and mos historians agree that the development of railroads was an absolutely crucial catalyst to th American industrialization period from 1843 to 1860. They even prompted the US to create one o the world’s first standardized time systems as discussed in an old video of mine which you can find here While passenger trains coul sometimes b profitable, freight services were where the real money was so most rail companies basicall ran passenger services as a mobile advertisement for their freight services to the executive that would decide which company to ship goods on. Trains were, after all, the most glamorou and efficient way to travel. However, as cars became popular in the 30’ and planes became popular in the 50’s, there was little purpose any more to set up passenge services as advertisements to executives who would be taking the more trendy car or plan instead. At this point, the few profitable passenge services only made money because of their contracts with the US Postal Service.

 Most trains would have one car that served as the railway post office—an office on wheels where workers would sort letters e route to the destination to save time. In the 1960’s, mail sorting was mechanized trucks and planes began to transport letters, and railway post offices were discontinued. It became essentially impossible to make mone with a passenger railroad. By the end of the 1960’s the only thin keeping the few passenger routes alive was a legal obligation by the Interstate Commerc Commission for the train companies to keep running those routes. But then Amtrak came along. In 1970, President Nixon signed into law th Rail Passenger Service Act which formed the federally funded national rail company tha promised to save and make great again passenger rail travel… except it didn’t. In the United States, a nation of 319 millio people, Amtrak operates a mere 300 train journeys a day, while in France, a nation of 66 millio people, the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais, also known as SNCF, operate 14,000 trips every single day, 800 of which are high speed. One common criticism of Amtrak is its unreliability. On average, only 72% of Amtrak’s train arrive on time. The California Zephyr route from Chicago t San Francisco even arrived on time a paltry 31% in June of 2016. So what does Amtrak blame the delays on: freigh trains. You see, Amtrak only owns 730 miles of th 21,300 miles of track it operates on. On the California Zephyr route, Union Pacifi owns about half the track and BNSF owns the other half.

According to Amtrak, only 1.4% of all delay on this route were their fault. The other 98.6 percent were reportedly th fault of the rail companies who own the track. Union Pacific will naturally lend priorit to their own trains on their tracks instead of Amtrak’s so Amtrak trains are often tol to wait to let a freight train pass. After all, it’s not like Amtrak can go an use competing tracks so there’s little incentive to give priority to passenger trains. Most rail operators in Europe don’t hav this problem. In France, for example, the national rai company owns all the track so priority can be given to passenger trains. Also, only 8% of freight in Europe is move by rail compared to 38% in the United States, so there are far fewer freight trains congestin the tracks. Since Amtrak is so young, they never got th opportunity to build their own tracks. The Northeast corridor—which is absolutel perfectly shaped to have a high speed rail network with five major urban centers located on a straight line—built up it’s rail system in the 1800’s and the railroad ha such an impact that towns and people flocked to the area around it.

 For that reason, this area is incredibly densel populated and there truly is no open space between the cities. Consequently, it would be unbelievably expensiv to raze a bunch of houses and build a new, straighter route of high speed tracks fro DC to Boston. Amtrak says that it would cost an estimate $151 billion dollars to build tracks up the spec of France’s high speed rail networ in the Northeast corridor. Since the Northeast Regional, the train runnin between DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, is one of the few routes tha makes money, there’s little incentive for Amtrak to sink a lot of funds into upgradin the tracks. Additionally, American cities just aren’t built like many European cities. With population densities averaging lowe than 15,000 people per square mile, cities in the United States are far less walkabl than their European counterparts which can have as many as 55,000 people per square mile. Due to their ancient roots, European citie naturally developed compact urban cores since for all but the rich there was no option bu to walk everywhere. Given that, it’s much easier to walk t your destination from a train station in a European city than it is in an American city. It’s believed that sinc most American have to take another form of transport to get to their destination after taking th train in America, they see the train as not that much more convenient than the plane wher you also have to take another form of transport to get to your final destination. So what’s the solution?

How should America fix it’s rails? Well, unfortunately, we’ll probably neve get a big network of fancy high-speed trains like in France or Germany. There are dozens of plans in the US to buil high-speed rail lines, however few if any of them will likely come to fruition. There is a high-speed rail line currentl being built between Miami and Orlando by a private company called All Aboard Florida however, with a top speed of 125 miles per hour, the service will only be slightly faste than driving due to speed restrictions on many parts of the route. The state of California is also building  high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Anaheim with a estimated transit tim of 2 hours and 40 minutes which would be less than half the driving time between the tw cities. Despite construction already beginning, phas 1 of the project isn’t estimated to be completed until 2029 and public support is diminishing. Many have proposed that America shouldn’ be concerned with building a flashy high-speed network. Amtrak’s 151 billion dollar proposal fo a true high-speed northeast corridor system divides down to $320 million dollars per mil or $60,000 per foot of high speed track. What would be far more efficient would b to upgrade current track to allow trains to operate at their top speeds. On the Northeast Regional route, trains reac a top speed of 125mph briefly, and if they operated at that speed for all of the DC t New York leg, the trip from DC to New York would take only slightly longer than two hours. Small improvements can cut minutes from th journey times which can add up to hours. Unfortunately, Amtrak is stuck in a rut wher they have no money to improve anything, which causes low ridership, which worsens the proble of no money. SNCF in France is so great because taxpayer pay for about half of the operating cost of every journey, while Amtrak is designed t be a for-profit yet government subsidized corporation. Right now, Amtrak is kinda like the neglecte little brother in the US transit family who doesn’t get any money, and until that changes we’re still going to have our slow, expensive trains. Thank you for watching! Make sure to click here to subscribe to Wendove Productions. For behind the scenes updates between videos. Aside from that, make sure to check out m last video on Maritime Law here. Thanks again, and I’ll see you soon fo anotherWendover Productions video.

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