Monday, January 14, 2008

High-speed trains in Europe

A while back, I wrote a post on the potential for high-speed trains in the U.S., covering some of the challenges but also the considerable productivity benefits to train transport.

According to this new BusinessWeek article (h/t Spiegel), Europe's high-speed rail networks are doing exceptionally well and are in the process of completing a number of important new projects. Eurostar, the train network connecting the UK with Europe, reported revenues increases of 15% while carrying over 8 million passengers.

A trip from Heathrow to Paris, including check-in, security and travel time, can still take several hours. By contrast travel from London to Paris via Eurostar takes only 2 hours 15 minutes, and can cost as little as $120 roundtrip (perhaps explaining why Eurostar carries 70% of all passenger traffic between the two cities).

However, potentially more exciting is the new Railteam, which promises to improve train connections via countries (currently a difficult and time-consuming concern) via a strategy similar to Europe's airline carriers:

Last July seven operators banded together to form Railteam, an alliance that is working to create a seamless, high-speed network across a large swath of Western Europe. Functioning much like an airline alliance, Railteam is setting up a common reservation system that's set to begin operations in 2009. It is also helping member railways coordinate their schedules to reduce layover times. A frequent-traveler program will even be offered -- another page from the airlines' playbook.
Additional information on Railteam can be found at After Gutenberg.

Given current environmental, energy and national security concerns, improving the high-speed rail model could be extremely lucrative, and offer a valuable example for future U.S. transportation initiatives.

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