July 26, 2013
Rail, high speed or not, is one of the safest ways to get around. According to a National Safety Council review of 10 years of transportation fatalities, for every mile traveled, car drivers and passengers are more than 10 times as likely to die in accidents as passenger rail
riders. In 21 years -- between 1990 and 2011 -- theBureau of Transportation Statistics shows that nearly 900,000 people died in highway crashes, while fewer than 15,000 died in train collisions.
Other countries' experience shows that high-speed rail can
be even safer than the much slower U.S. trains. The bullet trains that zoom through France and Japan, for instance, testify to the astonishing safety offered by well-managed rail services. Each nation's system has been
in operation for more than 30 years and provided billions of rides.
Yet thanks to advanced safety systems and extensive maintenance, no passengers -- zero -- have died as a result of a high-speed train crash in either country. Improvements in the design of German trains and a
review of maintenance operations in China have also prevented repeats of previous train accidents in those countries.
Early reports suggest that the train crash in Spain could have been avoided. The train may have been traveling at more than twice the allowed speed limit. Modern train control equipment is designed
to brake trains automatically when they travel too quickly or come too close to another train. Unfortunately, that train in
Spain did not use that system.
news is that the United States, whose rail system already has a strong safety record, is becoming safer thanks to investments
being made by public and private entities. The Federal Railroad Administrationmandated last year that by 2015 all intercity track be equipped with train control systems that would prevent crashes such as this week's accident
These realities should relieve the
concerns of those uncomfortable about investing billions of dollars in American intercity train networks. The international
record shows that high-speed rail is very safe to use.
An equally urgent question is whether such trains would provide a significant upgrade to the nation's transportation
network, and here again the evidence is clear that they would.
High-speed rail offers the option to travel at fast speeds across hundreds of miles between downtowns in
many of the country's largest metropolitan regions. Hopping on a train to travel between Chicago and St. Louis, Atlanta and
Charlotte, North Carolina, or New York and Washington in two hours or less would aid economic development by easing business
It would also lessen the stress
of travel for millions of Americans. No more sitting in traffic, grinding teeth at the wheel. No more long airport security
lines and shoe removals.
benefits would also be significant. California's system, the only one already set for construction in the United States, will
operate on renewable energy alone.
Train service similar to that already offered in European and Asian countries would require a significant investment,
but for many routes, an improved rail system is a worthy endeavor.