: Why aren’t trains the norm for inter-city/inter-state commute in the USA?

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In movies I often see cars used for long distance travel and not trains. I can’t imagine having to always drive for a long time everytime I need to commute long distances. Sorry for the shallow question, I’ve never been to the USA.

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9 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

Well the United States is very large and the cost of a nationwide train system is unaffordable for our government. ( but we have to have a defence budget…). I don’t know where your from but just the state I live in is roughly the size of germany. And that’s just one state.

Anonymous 0 Comments

There are a number of reasons for this. Principally, the United States government has spent a lot of money over the past 75 years on an interstate highway system. This road expenditure is an inducement to drive. It makes most other forms of transportation less commercially viable.

Sometime after world war II, passenger service started to decline in competition with the new roads and greater car ownership. Eventually, this service was not profitable for the railroads. However, various rules from the federal government required them to continue offering passenger service.

Ultimately, in 1971 or thereabouts, the federal government made a deal by which the struggling railroads could stop offering passenger service. The federal government would wrap up that passenger service into something that would be a government run corporation, Amtrak.

Since that time, Amtrak has struggled to invest in the infrastructure needed to make itself successful. It’s not a politically popular issue. Many elected officials assert that Amtrak should make a profit or be self-sustaining. Unfortunately, Amtrak inherited the deferred maintenance and other problems of the railroads that were operating passenger service previously. Moreover, Amtrak doesn’t own any of the track that it runs on and therefore has to compete with the freight trains.

Order for there to be good passenger service across the United States, elected officials would have to decide to invest heavily in rail infrastructure and transit in the same way that they subsidize airports and roads. This is unlikely to happen because it’s not a politically popular cause.

I think the other reason that bears mentioning is the mere size of the United States. To achieve a dense enough network of passenger rail would require a lot more for a country the size of the United States then it would for the entirety of Western Europe. People here are just a lot more spread out and there are a lot more open spaces. It’s most of our cities were developed after cars, even cities to sprawl out.

To recap, the predecessor railroads to Amtrak did not maintain good quality passenger service. Amtrak inherited all of their problems. There is no will now nor has there been any will in the past to thoroughly fix Amtrak with adequate funding for a rail system that would serve people adequately. It’s a big task because of how spread out we are and how big the country is.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The standard answer is that the US is very large and have relatively spread out population centers. It will be expensive to connect so many cities with trains especially if each city isn’t really that large (ie won’t actually provide a lot of customers) As an illustrative example, there are 34 cities in Europe that have a population of more than 1 million but only about a dozen in the US (this is not exactly a fair comparison since US cities tend to have large metro areas).

Second, US cities have expanded outwards rather than upwards. You end up with large metro areas which makes train networks a bit bothersome because a “central” city station might be a distance away from many of the city residents. Cars are simply too convenient.

Third, historically, many of the railway lines were privately built and operated. And their biggest priority is cargo not people.

Finally, the automotive industry has quite deliberately promoted roads and cars as the sole means of people transportation.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Our trains suck relative to other places.

We have some decent trains to commute into cities from the suburbs, but no real high speed intercity rail like Europe or Asia. They are slower than cars, tickets are more expensive than gas, and once you get to your destination you’ll probably still need a car because of how American cities are set up.

Anonymous 0 Comments

It’s a complicated problem with a lot of factors. I am only going to mention some, as they are the ones I am aware of.

The root of it can be traced back to the car boom in the mid-late 20th century. Cars were very effectively marketed as a luxury item that everyone wants to own, and the idea that cars = freedom was a large part of this.

Fairly simultaneously, the American Dream, brought to you by suburbia was born. This pushed single family’s homes to the population. These were incredibly cheap to produce, as land was dirt cheap, and the timber framing used is quick and efficient for 2 story homes, but less so for multi family developments.

As Suburbia was being built at the same time as the car boom, they were built in a very car dependent way, with no shops near homes, no pedestrian access, and little to no public transport considerations.

This eventually became enshrined in US zoning law, meaning that this type of car dependant development was the only thing that could be built, which meant that housing populations around cities are incredibly low density, and so public transit options such as busses and trains become incredibly inefficient.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The train lines are basically controlled by the freight companies. While by law they are supposed to give priority to passenger trains. The freignt companies basically use loopholes to ensure that there trains don’t get delayed. This means that passenger trains are slower and less reliable then they could be.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Many reasons. But the main reason I’d say is. The USA popularized the assembly line for cars in the early 19th century.

This drastically reduced the cost of cars. Since cars were cheaper here infrastructure was built around cars.

The culture is also very “make your American dream” happen and independent minded. You can’t control a public transport. But you can a car. Thus a lot of movies (which Hollywood has a lot of exports) here have interstate travel centered around cars.

Anonymous 0 Comments

1st, you got to understand is the US is very big. Up until the 20th century, normal people just didn’t travel that much. Industries were willing to invest in railways, but that’s cuz they made profit from The increased mobility. For the average US citizen, there just wasn’t really much need, so there was no call for tax dollars to be spent on public infrastructure like that.

Turn the century and during the inner war period, there was a lot of movement towards creating better road connections, but That was mainly a military investment: in case of war the military could already take over and use existing freight train lines so they wanted to add better road connection to augment that ability. Then it all really blew up after world war II with the interstate highway project, which again was a major military investment during the Cold war. Highway regulations, like bridge strength road width minimum underpass clearance ect, all of these were dictated by the military for their needs. The US military still bases a lot of it’s new technology around being able to use the US highway system.

So now you’ve got all these roads you put down from military defense. But they’re not being used for military defense, so use them for civilian needs. You’ve got a booming economy and a huge automotive industry; corporation can make a lot more money selling everyone a car, so they’re going to lobby against building a robust public transit system.

It’s an incredibly simplistic version of some of the major factors that led to this situation

Anonymous 0 Comments

Three reasons: because industry lobbyists (mostly the airline industry) have spent a lot of money on discouraging high-speed rail development; because Americans value their cars, and see road trips as a staple cultural practice to be enjoyed rather than an onerous burden to be endured; and because the US is really, *really*, ***really*** big.

For example, it’s over 1100 miles (over 1800 km) to go from just Seattle to Los Angeles. It’s over 1700 miles (over 2700 km) from Seattle to Chicago–and you have to go across the largest mountain range in North America.

I’ve taken an Amtrak train from (near) the Pacific Coast out to Chicago. It took more than two *full days.* Even if you could ride a continuous-speed bullet train over that distance, it would still take *ten hours* in the fastest bullet trains on Earth on a straight-line connection. And that doesn’t even get you from one coast to the other! To get from Seattle to New York City overland, it’s nearly 2900 miles (over 4600 km), and again, even the fastest bullet trains on Earth would take 12 hours or more, and more typical bullet trains would take 15 hours or more. (The “or more” is because that’s 15 hours assuming the train goes perfectly at maximum speed the entire time, which is not realistic.)

So yeah. Driving is part of our culture, we have lobbyists actively fighting against the idea of high-speed rail, and we live on an insanely large landmass.

If you want a physical intuition for how big the US is, flying from Seattle to Los Angeles is equivalent to flying from Berlin to Istanbul. Flying from Seattle to Chicago is very nearly the same distance as flying from Lisbon to Warsaw. Flying from Seattle to New York City is equivalent to flying from Edinburgh to Cairo. There aren’t single trains that connect distances this far apart in Europe, and there certainly wouldn’t be bullet trains doing so.