Top 10 global rail networks
The rail freight industry is currently enjoying somewhat of a renaissance after a period of decline, but on a broader scale the size and breadth of a country’s rail network for passengers and freight is a continuing source of national pride. Therefore we present to you our Top 10 collated with the latest available data, which means the track length are meant as a best possible guide only and not purported to be exact.
Operating in a similar fashion to Canada’s network, the USA’s rail system is the only other privatised network in this countdown and again, consists mostly of freight shipments rather than passenger services.
Continuously under pressure from other modes of transport, the commuter world seems to have left the old-timer behind but in supply-chain terms, the US’s rail network is still streets ahead of the rest of the world.
Boasting the longest average haul of any country, even ahead of Russia, America’s domestic routes extensively cover all states, and many operate on countrywide voyages. Will the US rail network ever be toppled by another country? Not any time soon, by this reckoning. (250,000km)
The Russian rail network has been hailed as an economic wonder since the 19th century, and it continues to be a world leader in that regard. Because it is much more sparsely populated than China and the USA, the rail freight in Russia is transported over much longer distances. It is one of the most freight-dominant railways in the world, behind only Canada, the United States and Estonia in the ratio of freight tonne-kilometres to passenger-kilometres. (128,000km)
China's rail network, with a route length of about 100,000km, ranks as the third biggest rail network in the world. The extensive network, operated by state-owned China Railway Corporation, carried 2.08 billion passengers (the second highest after Indian Railways) and 3.22 billion tonnes of freight (the second highest after the US railway network) in 2013. The huge amounts of investment to increase the network in China over recent years was a consequence of a need to increase freight capacity in the country. (100,000km)
In stark contrast to Canada, the 65,000km of network in India is the most congested on a population scale with nearly 19,000 people living per kilometre of track. Despite this though, the country’s lines still transport an incredible 921 million tonnes of freight per annum, covering the whole country as well as venturing into Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. (65,000km)
The first of only two privatised rail networks in the world, Canada’s system operates in a similar fashion to Australia’s with a relatively small population-to-network ratio. This makes the network prime for freight operations via the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railway lines which cross much of the beautiful North American terrain. (48,000km)
Carrying more than 415 million tonnes via Deutsche Bahn alone, Germany’s trademark rail company dominates the entire chain of routes around the country, from both a commuter and freight perspective. DB control 80 percent of the total freight traffic and 99 percent of the long-distance passenger traffic. Known for its efficiency, Deutsche Bahn is also a key operator in Europe as a whole, connecting countries from its central location. (42,000km)
Pacific National, QR National and Genesee and Wyoming Australia are the three main rail freight network operators who make up the majority of the nearly-40,000km extent of tracks in Australia. The Australian railway network does not have a high-speed line yet. One connecting Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne is proposed to be built costing approximately $114bn, but the first phase of the 1,748km network will not be realised before 2035. (39,000km)
In 2012 the government in Argentina announced that it was renationalising large parts of the freight industry across the country, in-keeping with the wider rail system for passenger services. With Buenos Aries at the core of the entire network, the country’s network is widely regarded as one of the most sophisticated for commuters and freight looks set to follow that trend. (37,000km)
The second largest European rail network is largely operated by the French national railway company, SNCF. Since 2007, the network has been under EU jurisdiction, accepting all agreements under the governing body to conform to continent-wide connections. But in reality, rail freight is a shadow of what it was in its 1980’s pomp. (30,000km)
Not quite as comprehensive as Argentina, but Brazil stills comes in as the second biggest rail network in South America. It has very good links throughout all regions of Brazil as well as helpful connections to Uruguay, Bolivia and of course Argentina too.
Connecting the continent has been pivotal in optimising trade and freight arrangements between the core South American nations, especially in regards to the agricultural sector. (28,500km)
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