It seems that one of those cycles the US always castigates itself about is a perception that the Europeans have a better rail system than we do and that we should somehow emulate their system. Which is why we still have federal subsidies of a half-assed Amtrak system and high-speed rail proposals are circulated breathlessly from time to time.
By the way, I have been a consultant to French railroad SNCF and I gaurantee we do not want to emulate the European rail system. First and foremost, the railroads are huge employment boondoggles. I remember that the SNCF when I was there had something like 100,000 freight cars but 125,000 freight car maintenance people. I suggested the railroad could assign one individual full time to his own car and still lay off 20% of the work force.
The main reason we don't have inter-city passenger rail is a simple one that anyone spending 5 minutes with the numbers can understand -- there are distance break points where air travel is more economic than rail, and most US inter-city transit falls into the larger distance ranges.
Anyway, the anti-planner shares a bit of information that is seldom mentioned in the rail discussion that makes the US rail system look a lot more desireable:
Europe has decided to run its rail system primarily for passengers,
while America's system is run mainly for freight. Europe's rail system
has about 6 percent of the passenger travel market, while autos have
about 78 percent. Meanwhile, 75 percent of European freight goes by
highway. Here in the U.S., highway's share of freight travel is only 29
percent, while the auto's share of passenger travel is about 82
percent. So trains get 4 percent of potential auto users in Europe out
of their cars, but leave almost three times as much freight on the
In fact, the freight rail system is so efficient that to some extent we've obviated the need for the Panama Canal. Many Asian container ships bound for Europe actually make port in Seattle or Vancouver, offload their containers onto trains which shoot across the country to New York or another eastern port where they are reloaded on ships for the trip to Europe.
By the way, in the same article, don't miss the hilarious proposal in Minnesota to spend taxpayer money for a high speed rail line from the Twin Cities to ... Duluth. Yeah, that's the ticket. New York to Boston barely makes it financially, but St. Paul to Duluth is going to be a winner.