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High Speed Rail in Japan: Lessons from Shinkansen

Samuel Staley
May 12, 2010, 7:46am

The San Francisco Chronicle has an useful article on the lessons from Japan's high-speed rail system called the Shinkansen. Japan now has five lines connecting this very urban and dense nation.

While the article's intent is clearly to promote high-speed rail by casting the story in the context of long-term benefits, the reportering is balanced enough to recognize the differences between Japan and the U.S.

A couple of notable items:

The primary error the article makes is that somehow the U.S. had a rail culture before automobiles emerged. In fact, transit likely never accounted for more than 30 percent of passenger miles and our geographically dispersed cities made fixed route transit difficult to remain competitive with the flexibility of the automobile as incomes rose. The choice of the automobile was a rational choice, not a cultural bias.

Samuel Staley is Research Fellow

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