An interesting article (which was actually a long, but well-written advertisement!) in MIT’s Technology Review this month, talks about Spain’s push to lay high-speed rail throughout the country.
Spain had been hampered historically, from interlacing their rail system with the rest of Europe, since they used a different gauge track; but they developed high-speed switching wheels that switch gauge at the push of a button, and they’re laying new track with the European standard gauge. Their push is so big, that since 2003, Spain is putting more money in rail than in roads, seeking to link all of their major cities with high-speed rail by 2020: 10,000 km in all, servicing 90% of their population.
Already, the Seville to Madrid line is fully operational (and only 2 hours, 20 minutes), and is so efficient that they’ll refund your money if the train is more than five minutes late (which happens only 0.25% of the time). Their trains reach speeds above 200 km/hour (120 mph), and hit as high as 300 kph (185 mph).
Why the push for rail? One big reason is oil independence, and another is air pollution. Rail helps with both goals, plus, it whisks travelers right into the heart of the city.