Transport Theory

Global high-speed rail plans surge ahead

Posting in Technology

A new study shows that countries around the world have plans to invest in high-speed rail networks in the coming years.

Although California's high-speed rail plans have been derailed, countries around the world are planning to invest in these trains in the coming years.

According to a new study by the Worldwatch Institute, the number of countries using high-speed rail is expected to jump from 14, today, to 24, in 2014. Global interest has spiked as high-speed rail has proven to be a reliable, efficient, and fast way of connecting disparate regions. Security concerns related to air travel have also affected consumers' willingness to fly.

Additionally, train travel is a much more environmentally friendly option than travel by car or plane. According to a 2006 study by the Center for Neighborhood Technologies, high-speed rail lines released between 30 and 70 grams of CO2 per passenger-kilometer. Cars released 150 grams, and planes, 170 grams.

"The rise in HSR has been very rapid," said Michael Renner, the Worldwatch Senior Researcher 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."

Currently, the countries making the most use of high-speed rail (ranked by length of track) are China, Japan, Spain, France, and Germany. Turkey, Italy, Portugal, and the U.S. plan to develop rail systems spanning more than 1,000 km in length. Another 15 countries intend to create shorter rail networks.

High-speed rail has proved successful in countries like France, where 62 percent of rail travel occurs on high-speed rail lines, and Japan, where high-speed rail enjoys a 75 percent market share on routes where both high-speed rail and air travel are available.

Photo: Dubut Arthur/Flickr

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Channtal Fleischfresser

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Channtal Fleischfresser has worked for The Economist, WNET/Channel 13, Al Jazeera English, Wall Street Journal and Associated Press. She holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure