Why Do Trains In America Function So Different Than Trains In Europe?

Many people wonder why Trains in America function so badly. The answer is not so clear-cut to most. America is a wealthy first world country.  And to make the problem even more shocking, America actually has the largest rail network in the entire world. It’s track is in fact twice as large as China’s. However, despite it’s massive size, it still does not take nearly as many passengers in comparison to those of other developed, first-world countries. This is mainly due to the fact that most of America’s rail network is filled with cargo, rather than people.


Generally, rail ridership is determined by the ratio of passengers to kilometers.  One passenger kilometer means one passenger traveling one kilometer. A train that can hold 1,000 people that travels for 1,000 kilometers means a million passenger-kilometers. However, the American railroads do not match up to this equation whatsoever.  According to Amtrak,  the American government run rail corporation, American railroads took only 17.2 billion passenger-kilometers.  In comparison to the European Union, railways accounted for almost 400 billion passenger-kilometers.  And if this calculation is thought of with the populations taken into account, it is even more uneven and worrying.  The Japanese, the Swiss, the French, the Danes, the Russians, the Austrians, the Ukrainians, the Belarusians, the Belgians all were over 1,000 passenger-kilometers in 2011, while Americans were only 80.  American Amtrak railways carried 31 million passengers per year. Mozambique’s railways carried 108 million. The numbers simply do not match up.  Where is America when it comes to innovation, investment and providing efficient public services to it’s people?

There are several reasons for these unequal numbers.  For one, America is much bigger than most European countries.  The density of certain areas is too low to have intercity trains running in certain areas of Texas or California for example. Another reason for this is underinvestment.  And one of the most significant reasons is that most passenger trains in America go through tracks that are owned by cargo companies. This means that trains mostly have to stop for cargo services. This cause delays that most often turn passengers off from traveling by train. American trains are slow, costly and overall inefficient for passengers to travel with.


Furthermore, traveling domestically by air is easily accessible and affordable. Airlines take a strong stance again high -speed railways, as they fear the competition against their services. Many people also travel by car.  Gasoline is much cheaper in America than it is in Europe, mainly due to lower taxes.  And most roads are free of tolls, although they are still extremely expensive to maintain.

Barack Obama’s effort to add a high-speed railway has created a political debate over a system that does not exist in the same way that it does in other countries.  The opposition to a railway is understood to be rather conservative, and Republicans strongly oppose rail projects as a part of their policies.

America’s complex politics do not seem to be too promising to see improvements in the near future.  California has planned to input a high-speed rail system. And if it is successful, other states will notice and most likely follow their system. However, if this idea does not work according to fail, it will probably seriously affect the potential of having a high-speed railway service in America anytime soon.  All things being said, America needs to make some changes in their system.