Much is being made of high-speed European rail as a model for the United States. Last week U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood was in Spain, trying out its AVE high-speed trains.
Which is all well and good, in my view. But it’s important to remember that high-speed rail in Spain is part of a network of mass transportation choices.
The AVE trains are quite expensive, in the same price range as airline tickets. But Spain’s rail system has less expensive alternatives, a vast network of trains that travel at a slower speed and make more frequent stops. There are overnight trains with sleeper cars that will take you across the country for the price of a good hotel room.
There are also a myriad of bus lines, going virtually everywhere and offering a range of services. The nicest buses have extra-wide seats, tray tables, an attendant and box meals — all for a reasonable price.
Spain also maintains a good network of toll highways, with very high tolls. Couple that with high gas prices and taxes (by U.S. standards) and there’s even more incentive to use mass transportation.