One of the biggest “shocks” I have had since arriving in the US is the state and design of railways lines.

Firtsly they still use wooden rail sleepers that are, for the most part, falling to pieces so badly that the line would be shut down if it was in most parts of the world; the older ones (if they haven’t already disintigtrated) are holding the rails onto the posts using metal spikes that are hammered onto the sleeper, assuming they haven’t been shaken out by the passing trains. Worst still, if the sleepers are being replaces then they are being replaced using yet more wooden sleepers and not concrete ones. I am sure there is a good reason for this (at least I am hoping there is), but it is not something you expect to see in the 21st Century.

Secondly, crossings. The way that railways look to have developed is that they will be crossed, frequently, by roads. At one time the practical way of crossing them was to simply build the road across and add in a barrier. There are going to be many problems with this, but two I would observe as being important are holding up the traffic and reducing the speed of the trains.

Some of the freight trains that run are, most often, at least a mile long, some longer; this in itself is very impressive (in fact one of the highlights of the rail system here is that so much freight is moved by rail, quite right too!). However, these trains also take a long time to pass through and so hold up traffic waiting at the crossings, this would also include emergency vehicles. Would it not seem logical for there to be at least one crossing in a town to go under or over the rail line to maintain the flow of traffic.

Having so many crossings also reduces the maximum speed that a train can travel simply because of the hazard they pose; you do not get very many higher speed lines in the world with roads crossing them, it is simply dangerous. So this reduces the maximum speed a passenger train can travel and so inhibits any attempt at introducing rapid speed transport (I would say there needs to be rapid speed trains before you get to high-speed). Given the state of the sleepers this is probably a good thing, I would not like to be travelling along a line at 100mph knowing that half the sleeps holding the rails are falling to pieces.

The problems with crossings can be best illustrated by the following video…