Europeans are all about traveling by trains. If the sheer number of train tracks criss-crossing the continent isn’t enough proof, all one has to do is look at hashtags for any of the major European train lines. Take #Eurostar for example:
— Robert Freeborn (@robfreeborn) February 18, 2014
I heart #eurostar
— Jon Slade (@blade_donft) February 11, 2014
Most impressed that I left Brussels at 14.56 and was back on my couch by 17.15 #eurostar (& the interview went well too!)
— Susi Holliday (@SJIHolliday) February 10, 2014
That is a lot of train love… and it isn’t just a fling.
Contrary to popular belief, trains were not solely popularized by their role in the Harry Potter series. Locomotives choo-chooed into the scene roughly 171 years before Harry met Ron on that fateful September day. The first mechanized railways appeared in England in the 1820s, and kick-started the industrial revolution across the world.
While the metropolitan rail system was being developed rapidly in London, continental Europe began to expand their rail services, starting in Belgium. For many countries, the development of the railways was a tool used to improve their economic and social systems. The French hoped that their rail system would bring about social modernization in some of the more rural areas. Germany’s aims were to strengthen the nation as well as promote industrialization.
Although the industrial revolution has come and gone, trains continue to rule the tracks. With the advent of high-speed trains, one minute you can be French kissing a stranger under the Eiffel Tower, and ogling Prince Harry at a polo match only two hours later. All this, without ever having to leave the ground. In fact, 81% of travelers prefer to ride the rails rather than take to the air when going from Paris to London. Millions of Europeans take advantage of this and journey billions of kilometers every year. France alone carries 54.72 billion passenger miles per year.
By choosing to take the train, passengers can choose when and where they want to depart from, similar to air travel. Although unlike air travel, passengers do not have to deal with as many rigid restrictions and can enjoy amenities like sleeping cabins and dining areas. Yet neither planes nor trains have developed an effective system for ejecting crying babies from the vehicle, a problem that consistently plagues both types of transportation.
Despite the fact that the last time many Americans rode a train it was in the mall, 10 or 20 Christmases ago, the United States is actually ranked first in the world in railroad miles. In the United States, trains are most commonly used for cargo transport, rather than human moving.
The widespread nature of the US just doesn’t operate the same way that it does in condensed Europe. Its not surprising that most people would rather take a two-hour train ride from Paris to London than bear the 37-hour journey from Minneapolis to Seattle. Having cities closer together and numerous high-speed trains that connect them make travel seem a little less daunting and a lot more doable.
Throughout the years and numerous technological innovations, trains have stood the test of time. They have successfully connected a continent and its people, and will continue to do so, with over 11,000 miles of high-speed rails in the works. Trains have made it clear that they are to stay in Europe, and not only because the tracks are made of steel and are very difficult to erode, but because the continental pastime is one that Europeans can’t, and have no desire to shake.