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Countries with the Most Rail Travel per Capita

In which countries does the average person travel the greatest distance via rail?
Based on this source
For 2018 or latest available year
Quiz by Quizmaster
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Last updated: March 14, 2021
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First submittedMarch 13, 2021
Times taken24,185
Average score80.0%
Rating4.89
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km
country
3,464
Japan
2,433
Switzerland
1,740
South Korea
1,609
France
1,488
Austria
1,340
Sweden
1,205
United Kingdom
km
country
1,179
Germany
1,143
Denmark
1,090
Netherlands
1,032
Kazakhstan
964
Czech Republic
963
China
920
Italy
km
country
912
Taiwan
897
Russia
885
Belgium
850
India
847
Norway
821
Finland
26 Comments
+36
Level ∞
Mar 13, 2021
For those who lament that the U.S. does not appear on this list, consider that California has been trying to build a high speed rail system for more than a decade and has very little to show for it, despite already spending more than $10 billion. Even if the rail system is completed, the immense amount of energy used to build it will mean that it will take 71 years before it becomes carbon neutral.

It may be that the U.S. (as well as other western countries) simply lack the political will and engineering know-how to build large scale infrastructure projects at a price which makes economic sense.

European countries have benefited by having existing passenger networks that work well, but its unlikely they would be able to build them today if they had to start from scratch.

I'm not sure what the answer is.

+32
Level 71
Mar 13, 2021
The U.S. did used to have a much more robust passenger rail system, but many of those old railways are either owned by freight carriers or have converted into rail trails. This leaves us with the lackluster system we currently have, with a struggling national company that has to work around the schedules of the freight carriers besides a single corridor in the most populated part of the country. A lot of the infrastructure already exists, it just needs to be organized in a way that accommodates both passengers and freight needs. I would personally argue that the best solution would be to nationalize the right-of-ways and distribute access to companies from a central authority, but unfortunately I don't see this happening due to too many people valuing 'free markets' over convenience and efficiency.
+4
Level 64
Mar 14, 2021
Dump Amtrack
+11
Level ∞
Mar 14, 2021
That's an interesting thought. I wonder, though, what the maximum speed is on these freight lines? Traveling at 50 mph from Detroit to Denver is going to take 25 hours. That's a level of pain that most people are not going to suffer through. If we want actual intercity rail travel, it needs to be at high speed. For example, France's TGV system operates at up to 200 mph. I'm pretty sure getting to those speeds would necessitate building out a new rail system.
+6
Level 43
Sep 27, 2021
Most of the high speed rail lines in Europe are built from scratch.

They don't operate on 19th century infrastructure.

+1
Level 62
Dec 25, 2023
Laughs in British
+9
Level 83
Mar 14, 2021
Rail simply makes sense only in the most densely populated corridors in the US: the northeast and to a lesser extent the west coast. Rail also came of age in a time when there weren't better options, but today 99% of people are going to choose the speed of air travel or the convenience/flexibility of driving their own vehicle when it comes to longer trips between states/cities outside of those two areas mentioned above.

And why the scare quotes around "free markets", as if that is something to be ashamed of valuing, or as if it is something that is a phantom that only crazy people believe in? Either way, it's a straw man to compare belief in free markets as somehow antithetical to "convenience and efficiency". Among many potential examples, QM's mention of the California rail debacle is probably exhibit #1 for how a nationalized solution would be very unlikely to deliver either convenience or efficiency.

+16
Level 76
Mar 14, 2021
I'd like to argue that the train is more convenient, if you wish to travel from place to place without detours and small towns. No need to focus, stress about other traffic etc. You're free to stretch your legs whenever you want. Toilet facilities in train. You can even take your car/motorbike with you, if you need it wherever you're going. Of course, this is the European experience.

Also, with fast trains, it beats the airplane experience with the security, cramped space, pressurizing issues and so on. Sometimes with time, too. For example: Zürich to Frankfurt is around half an hour faster with the plane, but considering the airport time, the train is actually around an hour or two faster.

So... it depends.

("Disclaimer"/stating the obvious: Not all European train experiences are the same. Roughly speaking the Iron Curtain's still there and UK made their own choices.)

+1
Level 76
Mar 14, 2021
Very restrictive environmental regulations are one of the stopping points in california and the US. The politicians that proposed new rails lines are hindered by the laws and regulations that these same politicians passed years earlier.

The "not in my back yard" attitude of the people near the area where rail lines would be built doesn't help either.

+1
Level 56
Jul 28, 2021
where is your source Quizmaster?
+21
Level 76
Mar 14, 2021
I calculate Taiwan should appear here at 912 km per capita per year. I suspect your source, the World Bank, has some sort of let's-pretend-Taiwan-doesn't-exist thing going on rather like this website pretends Palestine doesn't. From "Rail Transport in Taiwan" on Wikipedia, it states 21.5 billion passenger km in 2016; I derived the answer by dividing by its current population of 23.57 million.
+14
Level ∞
Mar 14, 2021
Updated the quiz to add Taiwan despite poor Palestine analogy.
+5
Level 56
Jul 28, 2021
@Jerry928, good analogy
+8
Level 89
Sep 23, 2021
Not really. This website does acknowledge Palestine's existence, just not as a country.
+7
Level 76
Mar 15, 2021
I wonder where Singapore would fall. Your source has no data about it, I'm guessing they only count long distance travel. But surely, lots of people take the metro quite often. I guess the distances will be rather short, though.
+2
Level 75
Mar 24, 2021
They probably would be on the list. I've never been to Singapore, but I can imagine that taking the metro would be pretty convenient. They'd just need one out of every three people to commute four kilometers daily to be on here.
+1
Level 67
Aug 26, 2021
Maybe bus travel is more popular there.
+3
Level 66
Sep 23, 2021
The train system in Singapore is extensive, clean, safe, efficient, and well used.
+2
Level 65
Sep 23, 2021
Singapore indeed should be on the list, coming in 6th just behind Austria. This source lists the total kilometers traveled on the SMRT trains per million inhabitants in 2017 as 8,322km. Dividing by the 2017 population of 5.612 million gives 1,483km of yearly rail travel per capita in 2017.
+2
Level 65
Sep 23, 2021
And indeed Zupity is correct, in Singapore you only take the bus to reach areas where the trains don't reach. The train frequency is 15 minutes at most (mostly around 6 minutes) until late at night, and they are almost never delayed. In the 6 months I lived there and took the trains on a regular basis, I have only been delayed once. The trains are very busy, and using them is highly promoted by the government. They reach almost any corner of the city, and indeed are super clean as well.
+1
Level 66
Mar 18, 2021
good quiz:D
+2
Level 58
Sep 23, 2021
At first thought, it seemed to me that people in the biggest countries travel the longest distance by rail, but that is only true for Russia, China, India and Kazakhstan. The rest are small to medium sized countries.

It seems, most people don't like long trips by train, so they go by plane if they can afford it.

Or it's because of historical reasons, maybe a lot of countries have not been able to build a big railway-net when trains were state-of-the-art for transportation and in the end skipped it to go directly to transportation by road or plane...

+2
Level 67
Sep 23, 2021
Michael Portillo's favourite quiz.
+2
Level 70
Sep 23, 2021
Is it per year? Since there's no mention of periodicity, it may as well be per month or in a liftime.
+6
Level 56
Sep 23, 2021
People in the USA are addicted to personal vehicle travel, and air travel. I would love for the US to have a high speed rail system, but probably will never happen.
+2
Level 41
Jul 2, 2022
Never would've guessed Kazakhstan.