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Train Replacing Plane: It's Not Insane

09/05/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Well-developed high-speed trains could take a lot of domestic travel out of the hands of airlines.

Which has the airlines crying, "That's insane."

British Airlines expressed its skepticism in a Guardian article: "High-speed rail cannot be a complete substitute for flying," the company said. "There are relatively few destinations in continental Europe to which it would be practical to travel and return by rail in a day. Therefore flying will always remain the preferred form of transport for millions of travelers."

We don't need train to be a "complete" substitute. The simplified check-in, security, and city-center to city-center service provided by trains will naturally cause many people to switch.

James Howard Kunstler says Obama's notion for U.S. high-speed rail is trying to sustain the unsustainable, and we should concentrate on fixing the rail system we already have.

Why not do both? Fix the rail we have, plan for more high-speed rail. Lester Brown notes a long list of benefits, the most important one being a move away from the car-centric system that has given us so many woes.

The International Aviation Transport Association (IATA) said that the country (Britain) that took decades to plan a contested third runway at Heathrow would probably take just as long to build a good high-speed net. More reason to start now.

As more people understand the CO2, congestion, and other pollution burdens of flying and driving, it seems that the populace will be willing to trade some time-savings for some climate saving.

Japan has the world's most high-speed rail lines, with France a distant second. And guess which country is the biggest surprise in the high-speed sweepstakes? Spain, once a country reviled for its backward, slow-moving rail system, now has a fabulous Barcelona-Madrid fast train connection, 1,594 kilometers of high-speed rail already built and a whopping 2,219 kilometers under construction.

China has only 394 kilometers currently built but an astounding 3,404 kilometers under construction. If building for high-speed trains was so insane, would China be investing in it?

For more articles by Graham Hill click here.