In Europe, Trains Are Full, and More Are on the Way

It’s all part of Europe’s ongoing rail renaissance, which is being driven in large part by strong interest from passengers.

“For long-distance travel, trains are full — and we have more demand than supply. This is true for day trains as well as night trains,” said Alberto Mazzola, the executive director of the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies, a Brussels-based industry group.

He attributed the rise in demand to passengers’ concerns about the climate as well as trains’ increasing price competitiveness with flights. For example, on, a popular platform for train bookings in Europe, a round-trip rail journey between Paris and Geneva in late January starts at 63 euros, or about $69, including luggage. On Google Flights, the cheapest round-trip ticket is 148 euros, not counting fees for checked luggage or airport transfers.

“The big problem that we have is lack of infrastructure,” Dr. Mazzola said, noting that train stations are the biggest bottleneck, followed by capacity on the lines themselves. Governments, including in Germany and France, are making major investments in infrastructure, he added, although these projects could take several years to bear fruit.


Or raise prices to match current demand and some capacity would shift to flights.

It is hard to believe how horrible old and retrofitted most USA transit is compared to Europe. European railroads are extremely well planned and integrated with other carless transport, riding them is pleasurable, and it is also easy to work on board (work surfaces, wifi and power).

Check out the integration of high speed rail, urban rail, and the biggest airport in Germany: Frankfurt Airport long-distance station - Wikipedia

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We have been giving away the store from 1981 to 2020.


I’ve taken the trains going through Frankfurt’s Airport many times as well as around North Europe. As well as in Japan, China, etc. SEA has some catching up to do outside of Singapore. I don’t think the US can build and expand train service economically for what ever reasons…

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Europe has a higher population density than the US. They have a somewhat larger population (about 400 million, IIRC) in an area quite a bit smaller. That makes trains a viable option in Europe.

Ditto for China, which has about 3 times the population in an area comparable to the US.

Much of the US, particularly west of the Mississippi, doesn’t have enough potential riders to make the costs of a passenger rail network worthwhile.


Europe has a population of about 700 million.
Excluding Russia, Europe’s population is about 600 million.
EU has a population is about 400 million
US has a population of about 330 million.

Contiguous US has a population density of 111 people per square mile.
China has a population density of 393 people per square mile.
Europe has a population density of 90 people per square mile.

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when I mention that the US can’t do it economically, less do to with how the population is situated as it is how the system works. Just observation but it seems large scale projects always overrun and are costly in the US of which Rail seems to be the most costly compared to other countries

I’ve read too many articles around the California/Las Vegas project to think they just shouldn’t bother to move forward anymore

This is true, but misleading I think. The Eastern US has 80% of the US population, but less than half of the land, the West is far less densely population for both reasons: more land, fewer people. Average it all together, it looks like we are roughly comparable to Europe.

But it’s not. Texas and France have roughly the same land mass; does it seem logical to say “they’re both the same”? I think not, (as France has double the population.) That means France may have the critical mass to support high speed rail across its many cities (and, to be fair, the political will to do a “public” infrastructure project of this magnitude), while Texas does not (and does not.)

There are also internal dynamics whichI have not figured out yet. For instance, (remaining with the same examples) it ought to be simple to build across Texas: wide open spaces, land relatively cheap, flat terrain, easy routing around population centers - and it ought to be quite hard to build in France for all the opposite reasons: protected agriculture areas for wine, etc. which can’t be moved (unlike, say, cattle), expensive land, topographical challenges, etc.

It seems the denser the population, the more challenging to build, yet without it there’s not enough demand to make it financially viable.

I had hoped that the US would get going on a couple of favorable and heavily trafficked routes: Boston/New York/Washington DC, perhaps later extended to Atlanta & Florida. Los Angeles/San Francisco and maybe a spur to LasVegas. Milwaukee/Chicago/StLouis and later spurs to Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

But it’s pretty much a nothing burger. I don’t really have hope that it ever will be, honestly. Too costly and there are others already plying the routes favorably.

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In addition, if autonomous automobiles ever take off they will eat into the middle-distance customers.


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Plus trains usually run to and from downtown. Most places you can spend 30 min or more getting to the airport. And finding a place to park.

Europe also has better mass transit in the cities. No need to rent a car when you get there.


Key point: Transportation in Europe has primarily been a relatively local process (i.e. first within a city and then going out from there). Intercity transportation was also relatively short. So transit to another area was also a reasonably short trip.

In the US, that same scale only applies to the Central East Coast, which has a fairly high population density and relatively short distances between cities. Get away from that area, and cities are suddenly much further apart. Thus making the connections between them far more expensive. Which is the reason the US govt gave the land to the railroads–to incentivize them to build those long transit connections that were otherwise not cost effective.

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And of course cities are usually located near water and near sea or river ports–from the days of transportation by water. Still used some places.

And to reach them railroads created crew change cities every hundred miles or so. And signalling/freight/passenger stations every 10 miles or so.

All of that is still there. The cities continue to grow at least in the suburbs and exurbs giving us urban sprawl. Making mass transit difficult.

Many crew change cities continue to prosper. They tend to be midsize and easier than urban areas.

Its the signalling station towns that are going away.

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I hope

  1. US builds high speed rail from Houston to Dallas/Ft.Worth to St. Louis to Chicago.
  2. US builds high speed rail from Chicago to Clevland/Pittsburgh to Wash DC/Baltimore.
  3. US builds high speed rail from Los Angeles to Phoenix to Houston.
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Speaking of European geography, suppose you moved the major cities of Europe to … Texas. What do you suppose that would look like?

Assuming many of us are in the demographic of over 50 years of age white males. We do not know that.

I have nephews and niece who do not want to drive.

There is plenty of room for higher-speed rail into the cities. All northeastern cities have slow rails now that can be modified. The land area already is in place. I should say the rails are pulled up and a new structure put down.

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St. Louis to Chicago is in the works. They are investing to increase speeds from the usual 79 mph. Section by section. Have not heard recent progress reports. Or max speed. I would guess 120 mph.

In Florida Brightstar(?) Is expanding. Extending their reach. Privately funded. Wishing them success.

Google st louis chicago high speed rail for details. Currently 90 mph, testing 110 mph to be completed 2023.

In the 1930s, the 20 Century Limited made the trip from NYC to Chicago, covering the 960 miles in 16 hours, for an average of 60mph, including stops and slow, urban tracks. The Zephyr ran from Denver to Chicago in 13 hrs, averaging 77mph and reaching maximum speeds of 112. Of course, back then, for-profit railroads took pride in running a crack train.

Remember the line in “Buddy, Can You Spare A Dime”?
“Once I built a railroad, made it run
Made it race against time
Once I built a railroad, now it’s done”

Haven’t come far in 90 years, have we?



It’s called Brightline. I don’t see how they can succeed because their prices are quite high. But they seem to be sticking around so far. One of my kids rode the Brightline once on a discounted fare and reported that the trains and stations are very nice. Though their train was delayed by an hour so they arrived at their destination an hour late.

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No, there is not. Significantly higher speeds require curves that are far wider (higher speed, remember?) and thus more land over an extensive area. That does not exist in the existing rail right-of-way. No way to realistically get that land because it would clear a wide swath in areas with high population density with no place to relocate the existing residents.