Yes, and it’s already happening. Here’s a little Christmas gift for high-speed rail (HSR) fans. I just pulled this Guardian UK article from August (via The Infrastructurist) about how the demand for HSR in Germany is really starting to crowd out the airline market. For an option that was once better than taking the car, but not as good as flying, rail is becoming the predominant mode in the intercity travel market. Many short-haul train trips are now faster than comparable plane trips. According to Pierre-Stephane Austi, CEO of Rail Europe, trains are, on average, a quicker ride than planes for distances up to 1500km (932 miles– for comparison, roughly the distance from Seattle to Fresno) when factoring in check-in, security, and recommended buffer time for air travelers.
It’s a phenomenon that’s beginning to be realized across Europe, where 90% of travelers between London and Paris are now taking the Eurostar over any airline. For a train to beat a car in the States is quite a feat, but winning over air travel is pretty unthinkable, at least for now. From the Guardian:
The journey considered to be the nearest modern equivalent to magic carpet rides is the Cologne-Frankfurt route, which used to take over two hours but has been cut to just over an hour. Taking the car is hardly an alternative, when even whizzing in your BMW on the speed limit-free autobahn would take twice as long as the train. Berlin to Hamburg by rail now takes about 90 minutes, whereas a few years ago a flight would have taken at least two hours, taking check-in time into account.
Okay, Secretary LaHood and America, let’s get on it!
[UPDATE: This isn’t exclusive to just Europe. The China Post reports that a Wuhan-Guangzhou HSR line will hit the airline industry hard there (H/T: Gordon Werner).]