Washington, DC -- As interest in high-speed rail (HSR) surges around the world, the number of countries running these trains is expected to nearly double over the next few years, according to new research by the Worldwatch Institute for Vital Signs Online.
Worldwatch says that by 2014, high-speed trains will be operating in nearly 24 countries, including China, France, Italy, Japan, Spain, and the US, up from only 14 countries today.
The increase is a result of HSR's reliability, as well as its ability to cover "vast geographic distances in a short time." Also investments are aimed at connecting once-isolated regions, and Worldwatch says air travel's appeal is diminishing, partly because of security concerns.
"The rise in HSR has been very rapid," said Worldwatch senior researcher Michael Renner, who conducted the research. "In just three years, between January 2008 and January 2011, the operational fleet grew from 1737 high-speed trainsets worldwide to 2517. Two-thirds of this fleet is found in just five countries: France, China, Japan, Germany, and Spain. By 2014, the global fleet is expected to total more than 3700 units."
Not only is HSR reliable, but it also can offer lower emissions per passenger distance than cars or airplanes. A 2006 comparison of greenhouse-gas emissions, released by the Center for Neighborhood Technologies, found that HSR lines in Europe and Japan released 30-70 g of CO2 per passenger-km, versus 150 g for automobiles and 170 g for airplanes.
HSR typically runs at 250 kph on new tracks and 200 kph on existing, upgraded tracks. Worldwide HSR is undergoing "explosive growth," Worldwatch says.
Between 2009 and 2011, the total length of operational track has grown from some 10 700 km to nearly 17 000 km with another 8000 km under construction, and some 17 700 km more planned. That is equivalent to about 4 percent of all rail lines -- passenger and freight -- in the world today, Worldwatch points out.
Current leaders are China, Japan, Spain, France, and Germany. Turkey has ambitious plans to reach 2424 km, and Italy, Portugal, and the US all hoping to reach track lengths of more than 1000 km. Another 15 countries have plans for shorter networks.
See more at www.worldwatch.com