Much of Europe is connected with bullet trains and Asia is catching up fast while lines are in various stages of planning in South America and the Middle East.
The U.S. is taking far too few and too timid steps to catch up, despite being decades behind many other developed countries.
Japan transformed passenger rail policy worldwide on October 1, 1964 by operating the first bullet train between Tokyo and Osaka at 130 mph. Prior to this, it was assumed that intercity travel would shift to automobiles and airplanes.
Three countries sought to emulate the Japanese: The United States, Italy and France. The U.S. was the first to deliver new projects: The 125-mph Metroliners between Washington and New York and the first 150-mph+ train, the United Aircraft TurboTrain. But the track needed for those trains was never built. Italy was the first to build a new line.
France was the first, however, to deliver a complete package by launching the TGV Sud Est on September 22, 1981, with 168-mph trains linking Paris and Lyon. This line proved the case for high-speed rail worldwide.
China now has the fastest train in the world, covering 664 miles in just three hours. They intend to build 10,000 miles of high-speed line by 2020.
Compare the three maps above to get an idea of the dramatic difference between rail in other countries and the U.S. The maps are all at the same scale. Purple lines represent high-speed lines in operation, dashed lines are under construction. Blue lines represent high-speed lines in various stages of planning.