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Old December 5th, 2009, 05:48 PM   #1
zo1D
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MISC | Difference between USA and EUROPE railnetwork?

Hi everyone,

I'm a civil engineering student from Belgium. For a project me and a colleague need to make a big "paper" about the difference between the rail network in Europe and the USA (why is there so much more freight transport via rail in the USA?)

Now we have allready found some obvious reasons:

- location: Europe is surrounded by sea, the land area in the USA is much bigger. So one would expect more transport over water in Europe.

- terrain: Europe has more mountains, USA has more wide open spaces = easyer for railtransport. USA = bigger distance => more efficient for rail

- infrastructure: they use different kinds of railways, different stations, off loading methods?

- function of the railnetwork: in Europe, passenger transport and freight transport occurs on the same lines. There are high frequencies for passenger train transport, ...?

- types of trains: mostly Diesel in USA vs mostly electric in Europe, double stacks in USA, better system to attach wagons to eachother (= longer trains)? ...

- Politics: Europe = lot's of countries with different types of infrastructure, different rules = makes international transport slower. Taxes in europe on train freight transport are different? Infrastructure is public or private.


Now my question is: what are your opinions about this topic? Are there more reasons why rail freight transport in the USA is more efficient? Are some of my reasons wrong?

Thank you in advance

ps: if it's possible, please put a link to the source you use when u want to say something usefull
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Old December 5th, 2009, 06:26 PM   #2
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- infrastructure: the USA have a single track gauge (1435 mm), in Europe there are five (1000-1435-1520-1600-1668, but two of them on isolated networks), plus dozens of different signalling systems and rules thad makes international traffic more difficult
- function of the railnetwork: USA mainly for freight, Europe mixed (but passengers are usually prevalent)
- types of trains: USA diesel with very good couplers, Europe mainlines are usually electric and couplers very weak (this prevents heavy trains)
- USA: railway infrastructure and trains are usually private, usually the regional/national government pay to use them, Europe: railways are public, but private companies pay to run their own trains (and aeven then, the greatest part of trains are run by the governments)
- USA: railways nearly dedicated to freight, Europe: mixed traffic with priority to passenger and a strict timetable (also for freight trains)

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Are there more reasons why rail freight transport in the USA is more efficient?
All of those me and you have written.
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Old December 5th, 2009, 08:23 PM   #3
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Most of the railroads in the U.S. are privately owned by railroad companies. The federal government has to pay these railroad companies to run passenger trains on them.

Thus freight is given preference over passenger transport, meaning intercity rail in the U.S. sucks .

But there are serious bottlenecks in the railroad network in the U.S, especially around CHicago. The railroad companies are only interested in short-term profits to appease shareholders and thus haven't put much money into expanding and upgrading track.

The federal government keeps pumping billions into the freeways but hardly anything into rail, so the disparity grows. Maybe the U.S. government should make trucking companies have to pay for the upkeep of the interstate highway system, that would level the playing field between truck and rail as a means to move goods.
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Old December 5th, 2009, 09:44 PM   #4
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Whilst I can't speak for the whole of Europe. I can for places I have been. The UK, France, and Spain all have very large and dense networks. The lowest normal frequency is 1tph. There are very few if any 'one train a day long distance' services like in the US.

Trains are smaller in scale, no houses size locos lol. the top speed is much higher. France and Spain have a large high speed rail network, the UK as a bit of one in the south east, but also has a lot of 125Mph tracks all over the places.

And also in Europe taking the train is in 99% of cases faster and better than taking the car, so thats why its used more aswell.
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Old December 6th, 2009, 03:12 AM   #5
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And then there's also the history that comes into play, as far as I'm aware.

In the USA, several corridors of land were made available to companies to lay their tracks in. Because hauling freight was much more profitable than passengers (no high-speed rail to connect those long distances in an acceptable time frame), the companies that invested in rail went for freight. Later on companies like Amtrak came who also provided passenger transportation on those lines, but due to the security regulations for passenger trains on shared tracks, these had to be very bulky (= strong in collisions, they reasoned at that time) and as such didn't accelerate very fast (huge disadvantage for commuter trains). Also, their speed was limited by the freight trains who use the same tracks and are given priority by the rail owner.

The main difference is obviously the big distance between cities, which not until recently meant trains couldn't compete with the airlines, which American people had already gotten used to by the time high speeds could be achieved on rails. For freight, trains are a perfect solution, because hauling it all by plane isn't cost-effective.

Do make sure you can find references for these statements though. I can only say what I remember from seeing elsewhere and keep in mind that "someone said that on a forum" isn't much of a reference

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Old December 6th, 2009, 01:02 PM   #6
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Thank you very much for the replies.

I won't use this forum as a direct source off course. But your comments are very helpful to find new inspiration and new directions to look for.

So keep em coming

Thanks (Bedankt)
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Old December 6th, 2009, 01:12 PM   #7
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Europe: fast and light.
feight trains are running at 120km/h and weight 2000 tons. axle load 20~22 tons, so the rail condition is pretty well.

USA: slow and heavy.
feight trains are running at 80km/h and weight 10000 tons and more. axle load 32~35 tons, so the rail condition is poor.
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Old December 6th, 2009, 03:29 PM   #8
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Well, people pretty much gave insights, but I'd never cease to emphasize that the fundamental difference is that US rail system is direct to transport freight, therefore optimized for that - which, I think, makes a lot of sense.

Quote:
feight trains are running at 80km/h and weight 10000 tons and more. axle load 32~35 tons, so the rail condition is poor
I would disagree. Railway companies in US have updated their tracks to bear those loads.

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Thus freight is given preference over passenger transport, meaning intercity rail in the U.S. sucks .
As unintended consquence of the demise of passenger rail transport in US was that its network was optimized for freight.

It would be impossible for European rail companies to run a barely as-near-as efficient freight operation like in US when they have to clear the way for passenger traffic, are restricted in regard of size of trains etc. It is simply not compatible: you can have a good passenger operation, or a good freight operation, but you cannot have both running in the same tracks. Passenger trains are very disruptive for freight: they have defined scheduled, they cannot be hold at intermediate stations or signal posts, and so on.

Moreover, US is decades ahead of European network in respect of security requirements for passenger trains. US passenger cars are almost "armoured" vehicles that can withstand a collision or derailment with far less casualities or damage than their European counterparts. Europe should learn about rail safety with US, and adopt some of its standards to reduce accidents.
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Old December 6th, 2009, 06:44 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by andrelot View Post
Moreover, US is decades ahead of European network in respect of security requirements for passenger trains. US passenger cars are almost "armoured" vehicles that can withstand a collision or derailment with far less casualities or damage than their European counterparts. Europe should learn about rail safety with US, and adopt some of its standards to reduce accidents.
This is incorrect. The USA does not have a better safety record than Europe. If Europe learned from the USA it wouldn't have the passenger infrastructure that it has. Running the amount of trains we do, and at the speeds we do, would be difficult to do economically if the trains weighed as much as US safety rules require.

A quick scan over recent rail crashes in Europe shows that modern passenger cars are very safe. The pendolino crash in Cumbria as an example, the train came of the track at 110mph and rolled down an embankment, but the vehicle did not breach. A passenger car cannot get any safer than that, unless the passengers are all strapped in to their chairs.

That trains need to be built like tanks to be safe is a misapprehension.
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Old December 6th, 2009, 06:50 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by andrelot View Post
It would be impossible for European rail companies to run a barely as-near-as efficient freight operation like in US when they have to clear the way for passenger traffic, are restricted in regard of size of trains etc. It is simply not compatible: you can have a good passenger operation, or a good freight operation, but you cannot have both running in the same tracks. Passenger trains are very disruptive for freight: they have defined scheduled, they cannot be hold at intermediate stations or signal posts, and so on.
Any mix of traffic is a problem, not just freight vs passenger. On any railway the most efficient operation is one where all the vehicles have a similar performance and timetable/speed. Mixing local passenger trains and high speed ones is as much a cause of inefficiency as mixing passenger and freight.

Though you are correct, that as long as Europe intends to run passenger trains on the same tracks as freight it will not be as efficient as the US. But Europe is trying to operate more freight, and likewise the US is seemingly trying to operate more passengers. For both a solution will be needed, and I feel that both will start to duplicate the infrastructure to avoid the inefficiencies, such as the freight only line from Europoort in Holland to Germany.
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Old December 6th, 2009, 07:01 PM   #11
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Terrible facts are running in China, Euro speed + American load.

Change of China without sound.
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Old December 6th, 2009, 07:01 PM   #12
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Sorry if I say something stupid - I'm neither an engineer nor an expert on US railways - but isn't there a linkage beteen design speed and the exact nature of safety requirements? I mean, requirements that a train must be strong like a tank must be based mainly on the assumption that accidents take the form of (1) collisions or rear-endings; with (2) low to medium speed. It's like rolling quietly in your car: if you bump into something while turning out from the mall then it's much nicer to be in a Range Rover than in a Fiat Ritmo.

Conversely, if trains travel at, say, 150 km/h and bumps into something then I'd rather have a soft snout which folds up and absorbs much of the shock. (That's a French preference, I admit.) Similarly, if a train runs off track then the most important thing (as Makita alluded) IMO that the cars are solid and the lenght of the train rigid. We've had some awful derailments in India because the cars were made of soft iron that imploded, and some awful accidents in Germany because the length of the train - whilst made of strong metal - folded up like an accordion.

At least in high-speed service we need not worry about that. If a train travelling at 300+ km/h hits something then... mostly it doesn't matter how strong its construction is. The passengers just fly through the air at high-speed.
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Old December 7th, 2009, 12:01 AM   #13
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Many American Railways are in good condition , some aren't , we may not have a great Intercity Rail system , but many states are adding passenger Rail to the Freight lines , like New Mexico, Tennessee , Minnesota , Washington , Oregon ,Texas , Oklahoma , Ohio , Conneticut. By 2020 our Network should be bigger then now , and more Electric, alot of East Coast projects are looking more toward Electric lines then Diesel. As for Freight maybe Electric isn't that far down the Road. I think our Rail network is safer then Europe, high standards.

Some Rail videos

2 Union Pacific Freight in Cedar Rapids, Iowa




CN Rail , in Rural Illinois



Rahway Station : Rahway ,NJ Amtrak & NJT Transit



New Mexico Rail Runner Express , with one of the last remaining semaphore signals left on the US Rail Network



Morrisville , PA NJT , Septa , AMTRAK , ACES , Acelas



Amtrak Keystone line , Amish country part of PA



Seattle Metro Freight & Passenger Rail

China seems to always try to break or damage something




Cascades Train
Cascades line , Portland , Oregon to Vancouver , Canada
it also tilts , with Talgo cars




Thats all i have for now , i'll dig up some more later , form my many Rail Fanning Contacts

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Old December 7th, 2009, 12:58 AM   #14
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If someone asked me to resume the differences between US and European railways (and I know both in deep) in one sentence I'd say: "While in the United States the primary concerns go towards simplicity and eficiency, in Europe they move to technology and beauty".

Besides what others said here regarding the different focus in freight in the US and passenger transport in Europe, these different philosophies reflect themselves in several differences. Infrastructure is different, even in philosophy causing American tracks and infrastructure in general to be simpler and cheaper to maintain than its European counterpart. The trains themselves are different. In the United States trains are usually simple, reliable, easy and cheap to maintain. True work-horses suited for working under a different set of conditions with minimal care. In Europe trains tend to be technologically advanced and more prone to glitches than in the United States.

Someone mentioned above the new freight line between the Netherlands and Germany, the Betuweroute. This line is a fine example of the added complexity which exists in Europe. Please remember that this is a freight line. However, even so, it is fitted with ERTMS 2. Also, it was designed for a maximum load per axle of only 25t... even though it is prepared for double-stackers in the future.

In the United States the goal is having an efficient freight railway and hi-tech is used only where it improves efficiency. In Europe the goal is having a technologically advanced railway which serves primarily the passenger transport purpose.


There are, then, of course, a lot of differences in what compatibility of different systems, railway organization and government oversight are concerned which affects the way both systems work. The European (except Switzerland) and Americam railway models are very, very different and distinct.

Last edited by Oponopono; December 7th, 2009 at 01:07 AM.
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Old December 7th, 2009, 01:20 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by andrelot View Post
...

Moreover, US is decades ahead of European network in respect of security requirements for passenger trains. US passenger cars are almost "armoured" vehicles that can withstand a collision or derailment with far less casualities or damage than their European counterparts. Europe should learn about rail safety with US, and adopt some of its standards to reduce accidents.
While I agree with most of your points, this I can't agree with. I can't agree at all.

The US is not decades ahead in this regard, it got caught in the last century with it. Those US "safety" regulations are more than excessive and I think those in the business of train design would rather agree with me than with you. You would not mandate planes to be constructed in a way to survive a full scale crash either, would you? No you rather create a safety system that makes such a crash extremely unlikely.

Its pure madness to mandate "Tanks on rail". I think the safety record of the TGV is fairly good, but when the US wanted what became the Acela they had to make it about 2 times heavier than the normal TGV would be, because these safety regulations demand it. This is not only madness in terms of energy efficiency it is also madness in terms of damage the train does to the tracks due to its weight and relatively high speeds.

The US should seriously think about these regulations again. If it should not do so it will be even much harder to ever create a feasible HSL system more than it is anyway.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Oponopono View Post
If someone asked me to resume the differences between US and European railways (and I know both in deep) in one sentence I'd say: "While in the United States the primary concerns go towards simplicity and eficiency, in Europe they move to technology and beauty".

Besides what others said here regarding the different focus in freight in the US and passenger transport in Europe, these different philosophies reflect themselves in several differences. Infrastructure is different, even in philosophy causing American tracks and infrastructure in general to be simpler and cheaper to maintain than its European counterpart. The trains themselves are different. In the United States trains are usually simple, reliable, easy and cheap to maintain. True work-horses suited for working under a different set of conditions with minimal care. In Europe trains tend to be technologically advanced and more prone to glitches than in the United States.

Someone mentioned above the new freight line between the Netherlands and Germany, the Betuweroute. This line is a fine example of the added complexity which exists in Europe. Please remember that this is a freight line. However, even so, it is fitted with ERTMS 2. Also, it was designed for a maximum load per axle of only 25t... even though it is prepared for double-stackers in the future.

In the United States the goal is having an efficient freight railway and hi-tech is used only where it improves efficiency. In Europe the goal is having a technologically advanced railway which serves primarily the passenger transport purpose.
Where exactly are diesel trains simpler than electric trains? Diesel Trains are more difficult to maintain than their counterparts as they have more moving parts and a diesel electric train for example is also considerably more complex than an electric train. I think your labeling "simple vs fancy/complex" is an unjustified oversimplification. Your implication that Europe is not interested in an efficient rail system is a pretty heavy insult which is also doubtable. After all, this longing for efficiency certainly does not seem to extend to passenger rail, or why would the US demand passenger trains to be nearly tank like?

I have also seen a number of freight rail tracks myself in the US and more often than not they looked rotten or even worse, at least on the east coast. They companies are clearly consuming the rail infrastructure heritage there, but while freight transport does not need so well maintained tracks, it looked like at a certain point the companies will be confronted with the need to do massive and large scale investments or to completely give up service on a lot of tracks, even if the aim is using it only for very low speed freight cargo.
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Last edited by Slartibartfas; December 7th, 2009 at 01:37 AM.
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Old December 7th, 2009, 01:26 AM   #16
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The US should seriously think about these regulations again. If it should not do so it will be even much harder to ever create a feasible HSL system more than it is anyway.
When the time comes, I am sure, the appropriate set of rules will be added to the federal regulations regarding all aspects of high speed railway construction and operation.

Nowadays the standards concern primarily freight operations and passenger trains adapt themselves to it. That, necessarily, has to change in order to have high speed rail.
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Old December 7th, 2009, 01:49 AM   #17
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Where exactly are diesel trains simpler than electric trains? Diesel Trains are more difficult to maintain than their counterparts as they have more moving parts and a diesel electric train for example is also considerably more complex than an electric train. I think your labeling "simple vs fancy/complex" is an unjustified oversimplification.
It hasn't to do specifically with diesel versus electric but with which diesel versus which electric. Trains in the US use only proven technology for which they are very well suited and rarely move forward in the tech scale without the need to do so, be it mandatory regulations or efficiency demonstrations. The technology used in US trains tends to be as simple as possible so as to keep maintenance costs low and keep doing it the way they are used to do without need to train workers or buy expensive maintenance equipaments. In Europe we have a special taste for using high-tech, sometimes only for the sake of it. In general, train operation and maintenance in the US is much, much cheaper than in Europe.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Slartibartfas View Post
Your implication that Europe is not interested in an efficient rail system is a pretty heavy insult which is also doubtable. After all, this longing for efficiency certainly does not seem to extend to passenger rail, or why would the US demand passenger trains to be nearly tank like?
I gave the example of a freight line, right? That is where I compared efficiency: apples with apples. I also said that the US system is tailored for freight trains with all rules and regs made for them and passenger trains having to adapt to these existing rules. And the fact is that when you compare a freight route in the United States with a freight line in Europe, the American one delivers the most efficient trains.

I don't mean to insult anyone or any country whatsoever. I am only concerned about numbers and comparisions. Other than that I don't really care.


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Originally Posted by Slartibartfas View Post
I have also seen a number of freight rail tracks myself in the US and more often than not they looked rotten or even worse, at least on the east coast. They companies are clearly consuming the rail infrastructure heritage there, but while freight transport does not need so well maintained tracks, it looked like at a certain point the companies will be confronted with the need to do massive and large scale investments or to completely give up service on a lot of tracks, even if the aim is using it only for very low speed freight cargo.
It depends on which lines are you talking about. One thing I can assure you: if the requirements call for a line capable of handling fregith trains at only 40 mph, then I assure you that the owner will keep it at Class 3 and won't incur the expense of doing the maintenance with the parameters for Class 4.

This being, the tracks are kept at what they are needed for and not an inch above that.

Last edited by Oponopono; December 7th, 2009 at 01:56 AM.
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Old December 7th, 2009, 02:08 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by zo1D View Post
Hi everyone,

I'm a civil engineering student from Belgium. For a project me and a colleague need to make a big "paper" about the difference between the rail network in Europe and the USA (why is there so much more freight transport via rail in the USA?)

Now we have allready found some obvious reasons:

- location: Europe is surrounded by sea, the land area in the USA is much bigger. So one would expect more transport over water in Europe.

- terrain: Europe has more mountains, USA has more wide open spaces = easyer for railtransport. USA = bigger distance => more efficient for rail

- infrastructure: they use different kinds of railways, different stations, off loading methods?

- function of the railnetwork: in Europe, passenger transport and freight transport occurs on the same lines. There are high frequencies for passenger train transport, ...?

- types of trains: mostly Diesel in USA vs mostly electric in Europe, double stacks in USA, better system to attach wagons to eachother (= longer trains)? ...

- Politics: Europe = lot's of countries with different types of infrastructure, different rules = makes international transport slower. Taxes in europe on train freight transport are different? Infrastructure is public or private.


Now my question is: what are your opinions about this topic? Are there more reasons why rail freight transport in the USA is more efficient? Are some of my reasons wrong?

Thank you in advance

ps: if it's possible, please put a link to the source you use when u want to say something usefull
You make the mistake that you are speaking about Europe as one area. But this isn't reality. The differences within Europe are very big, think about the difference between France and Russia, between the UK and the Ukraine for example.
So a comparison USA vs. whole Europe makes no sense at all.
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Old December 7th, 2009, 02:11 AM   #19
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You make the mistake that you are speaking about Europe as one area. But this isn't reality. The differences within Europe are very big, think about the difference between France and Russia, between the UK and the Ukraine for example.
So a comparison USA vs. whole Europe makes no sense at all.
Hmmm, I assumed that his question concerned only Western Europe. Did I make the wrong assumption?

Even if we speak only about western Europe there are differences, yes but it is manageable to speak about them in terms of being similar ways of operating railways. Now, if he meant all of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals that is a whole different thing and we'd have to start by exposing the differences between countries in Europe and only then move to compare with the US.
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Old December 7th, 2009, 02:20 AM   #20
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When the time comes, I am sure, the appropriate set of rules will be added to the federal regulations regarding all aspects of high speed railway construction and operation.

Nowadays the standards concern primarily freight operations and passenger trains adapt themselves to it. That, necessarily, has to change in order to have high speed rail.
There are specific HSL projects already in the pipeline. The sooner they could rely on reasonable and feasible regulations the better it would be for them. I mean if you have to plan a high speed line, you'd better know the details. I can't see what the benefit of waiting here would be.

I know that rail is mostly about freight nowadays in the US, but that does not mean one should simply ignore the rest. Acela is already a victim of turning a blind eye to this question, it would be irresponsible to force a second project into a similar fate.

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It hasn't to do specifically with diesel versus electric but with which diesel versus which electric. Trains in the US use only proven technology for which they are very well suited and rarely move forward in the tech scale without the need to do so, be it mandatory regulations or efficiency demonstrations. The technology used in US trains tends to be as simple as possible so as to keep maintenance costs low and keep doing it the way they are used to do without need to train workers or buy expensive maintenance equipaments. In Europe we have a special taste for using high-tech, sometimes only for the sake of it. In general, train operation and maintenance in the US is much, much cheaper than in Europe.
When I read your lines, it would almost look like technological progress would be done for the sheer fun of it by some weirdos. Thats simply not the case normally, also when it comes to freight rail.

The Austrian railways for example used its locomotives pretty much as long as it was justifiable (actually even a bit longer). They were well established reliable and simple quality. The new locomotives were chosen according to cost effectiveness as well, its no accident that the locomotive class it belongs to can be found in various European countries nowadays. I doubt that they are fancy trains, but rather straight forward work horses and as no one would even try to claim that a plane from the 50's could be nearly as efficient as a new plane, I think its quite courageous trying to claim that this is not the case at all with trains. Of course, you may have a better insight into the European railway companies than I have, I don't know.

Where European locomotives are indeed more complex is when they are capable of using more than one electricity network and more than one signaling system. This is indeed a disadvantage but its a direct consequence of the fractured nature of the European railway system. The US has indeed a vast advantage in this regard but there is little Europe can do about it. It is working on making the railway networks more compatible but thats another story.

Quote:
It depends on which lines are you talking about. One thing I can assure you: if the requirements call for a line capable of handling fregith trains at only 40 mph, then I assure you that the owner will keep it at Class 3 and won't incur the expense of doing the maintenance with the parameters for Class 4.

This being, the tracks are kept at what they are needed for and not an inch above that.
If you say so. You may know more about it all, but as far as I know even if your goal is to keep a track only on a very low maintenance level, at some point you simply will need to do a major overhaul and that will be necessarily a major investment, and it won't become a smaller one if the track was maintained only very negligently, even if that was on purpose because it was not deemed necessarily to keep it in a better shape.


PS:
I fully realize that the American system and the European system are hard to compare in first place. Distances tend to be much shorter in Europe than in the US on average, which makes it much harder for railway companies to be competible in freight service. I guess it also makes it harder to even think about those huge freight trains the US knows and this would be even the case if there were no passenger rail in first place. Europe could not aspire in its wildest dreams to catch up with the US in the freight rail share, but it should be able to considerably improve its pretty low share if the will is there.
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