Talking Headways Podcast: High-Speed Rail Lessons from France and Germany

In France, the high-speed rail system is designed to provide the fastest possible connections to a single city, Paris, while in Germany the rail network has more connections but slower trips. Graphic: Eric Eidlin

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This week we’re joined by Eric Eidlin, a community planner and sustainability lead at the Federal Transit Administration. Over the last few years Eric has also been studying high-speed rail in Germany and France as a fellow with the German Marshall Fund. He recently published a report, “Making the Most of High-Speed Rail in California: Lessons from France and Germany.”

Eric discusses the differences between the French and German systems and what we can learn from each. He delves into the importance of station location, land uses for station areas, integrating walking and biking with stations, and having a 50-year view of planning these projects. And of course, you won’t want to miss lessons for California’s planned system going forward.

As always, you can find us on iTunes or Stitcher if you want to subscribe directly.

  • Justin

    Great conversation, when it comes to high speed rail it would be great if you can look at how high speed rail functions in Japan. Because they do a very good job with operations offering trains that meet the need of both speed and accessibility. The way the network or routes are set up in Japan, the main one, is very similar of the planned California High Speed Rail Network due to these two places sharing similar land size and how it’s shaped.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    i just Wish we could have 75 MPH passenger rail

  • Bolwerk

    Reliable hourly intercity rail is probably more critical for the USA than HSR, but HSR is still critical to make some city pairs attractive. It’s hard to imagine NYC-Buffalo being that attractive much below average speeds of 75mph (which probably means a lot of 125mph corridor segments).

  • Alexander Vucelic

    true – but there isn’t a perfect answer. I tend to prefer lots of minor incremental improvements in core areas ( SoCal, Chicagoland, Houston-Dallas, Seattle-Portland, and Extending Northeast corridor )

    my hunch is a couple of big multi-zillion dollar HSR projects are not going to build deep lasting success.

  • AndreL

    There can’t be increment improvements on any of the routes you suggested, because the bottlenecks are too expensive to be dealt with. And never mind the fact freight railways control the tracks in all these regions.

  • Alexander Vucelic


    just to cite one example;

    The most busy passenger rail route outside of NorthEastCorridor is the Amtrack line running San Diego-LA-Santa Barbara. It travels at a average speed of 30MPH. No express service.

    At 30 MPH the train matches car speeds.

    It would be dirt cheap ( compared to building HSR ) to add 2 tracks to the current 2 track system creating a 4 track system. It would be dirt cheap for the Taxpayers to pay for the upgrade and GIVE IT to the private owners of the roadbed.

    Imagine the level of ridership if express service averaged a measly 60MPH.

    This is one example – likely dozens more

  • AndreL

    There isn’t space for 2 extra tracks between San Diego and Los Angeles. Real estate is very expensive. Interestingly, that trackway (Surf Line) is owned by a public entity.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    more than enough space to add 2 express tracks on much of the route. the right of way is enormous plus most of the route is in sparsely populated areas.

    Of the approx 200 miles,

    40 runs through Camp Pendalton
    50 runs through farmland

  • Bolwerk

    I don’t think price is the problem for private railroads adding tracks. More tracks are improvements, which mean higher property taxes. That’s why, at least historically, tracks were often removed.

    They probably want indemnification from future property tax increases, and maybe from maintaining any improvements to passenger rail standards.

  • Egbert True

    Almost $2 billion has been spent on LOSSAN improvements since the agency foundation in 1989. Much of the route is single track. Sections of track are owned by 2 private railroads and 6 county agencies. The 60-mile San Diego segment of the LOSSAN corridor owned by the North County Transit District is just over half double tracked. During the next 20 years, there are plans to construct nearly $1 billion in improvements in the San Diego segment alone, including a primary effort to double track the corridor from Orange County to Downtown San Diego.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    thank you – I’ve taken this Many times and didn’t realize Much of it Is still single track. No Wonder it averages 30 MPH

    It Is excellant to hear Much of The line will be soon double tracked. Might even average 50 MPH then.

    even 50 MPH would be competitive with driving, just Barely but One could expect Ridership to easily double with a 50 MPH average.

    $2 Billion Over 30 years is nothing. compare that Cost to upgrading One freeway cloverleaf in LA


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