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.
They don't operate on 19th century infrastructure.
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.
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.)
Literally yes, especially in this case.
How is this "free-market" fantasy even supposed to work with a rail system?
The "not in my back yard" attitude of the people near the area where rail lines would be built doesn't help either.
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...
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