David Dudley is the executive editor of CityLab. He is the former editor in chief of Urbanite magazine and a former features editor for AARP: The Magazine.
A video recaps why U.S. passenger rail is so dreadful.
Trains! Why do they suck? Wendover Productions, makers of breezily wonky video explainers, tackles this ageless question in their latest effort, which recaps the familiar failings of U.S. passenger rail compared to its European counterparts. (The French national rail system manages 14,000 trips daily, while poky, cash-strapped Amtrak manages only 300.)
As the video makes clear, the manifest awfulness of rail travel in America is largely a matter of geography and history. Much of the nation is just too sprawly to make inter-city rail competitive with cars and air travel, and passenger service has to share tracks with freight lines, leading to frequent delays and disruptions. But even in the Northeast Corridor, where density is high, Amtrak owns the tracks, and a coastal high-speed line running from D.C. to Boston should be a slam-dunk, rail fans still find their dreams squelched, as the current costs of purchasing the required real estate would be astronomical—think $151 billion. That’s why Uzbekistan has a new bullet train and you don’t.
If you have eight-and-a-half minutes to kill—say, while waiting for the California Zephyr, which had an on-time performance rate of 31 percent in June—you’ll learn much, much more.