The Obama Administration's $8 billion plan to bring high-speed rail to the U.S. is ambitious, to say the least. And with so much cash riding on its success, it better have some redeeming merits. One possible benefit: a reduced reliance on air travel. China's vast network of high-speed trains has cut into air travel so much that China Southern Airlines Co. (the country's largest carrier) and Air China Ltd. have reduced prices by up to 80% to compete with the rail network.
The trend shows no sign of stopping any time soon. China will add 11,185 miles of rail lines in the next ten years. By 2020, the country will have high-speed rail connecting every Chinese city with over 500,000 residents, giving 90% of the total population access to the network.
Air travel isn't slowing down either—domestic traffic grew 22% last year, and 25 new airports are under construction. But for short trips, rail travel seems to win out thanks to roomier seats, centrally-located stations, and better on-time rates than the unreliable domestic air transit system.
Cramped seats, delayed flights...sound familiar? There's no reason why high-speed train travel can't take the pressure off airlines in the U.S. as well, especially for popular but quick flight routes like Los Angeles to San Francisco. Without taking into account the carbon impact of building a countrywide rail system, increased train travel has the potential to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.