What Do They Know That We Don’t?

It’s hard to believe, but the first shinkansen, Japan’s famous bullet train, went into service between Tokyo and Osaka more than 50 years ago. Before then, conventional trains made the run in six hours and forty minutes; less than a year after beginning the high-speed service, the run time was cut to just over three hours.
It took the French a few years longer, but their TGVs (train à grande vitesse, or high-speed train) went into regular service around 1980. They now routinely run at 200 miles per hour. Some even faster.
It’s a pity most Americans haven’t experienced one of these trains. They’re quiet, they’re comfortable, and the ride is incredibly smooth … smooth enough for car attendants to stroll casually down the aisle pouring hot coffee for passengers while the train is traveling at 200 miles an hour.

Some Americans will grudgingly acknowledge that the Japanese and the French are leaders when it comes to high-speed trains. But let’s not forget the rest of Europe: the Germans and the Swiss and the Spanish and the Italians all have high-speed trains whisking people all over the continent. And, of course, the Chinese have built thousands of miles of high-speed routes in just a few years.
But here’s the thing: the Chinese and the French and the Japanese are not alone. You can now ride 200-mile-an-hour high-speed trains in almost every developed country in the world. In Turkey … in Morocco … in Uzbekistan. Yes, in Uzbekistan! There are high-speed trains in Taiwan and, in five years, you‘ll be able to travel the 200 miles between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore in 90 minutes.
As of today, there are more than 37,000 miles of high-speed rail lines throughout the world, either used by or being constructed for trains running at speeds of 200 mph or more. There are thousands more miles of track being used by trains running up to 125 miles an hour.
So what about us? What about the United States of America? At the moment, our only high-speed trains, Amtrak’s Acelas, operate on the Northeast Corridor (Washington-New York-Boston). While they do reach speeds of 150 mph for very short stretches, the average speed is somewhere just over 85 miles an hour. That’s it. That;’s the best we’ve got. A couple of routes—St. Louis-Chicago and Detroit-Chicago—are being upgraded for trains to run at 110 mph. And, in the face of furious opposition, California has managed to begin construction of a high-speed rail line that will connect Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Isn’t it amazing? Most of the rest of the world can hop a train and go just about anywhere safely and in comfort at 200 miles an hour. Meanwhile, here in “the greatest country in the history of the planet”, we’re still arguing about whether or not high-speed rail is a good idea.
Damn! I really hate being a laughingstock.