By now you've heard of the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia. At least eight are dead and many more are hurt. I expect that this will soon fade from the news because unlike airplane crashes, train accidents seem not to get the 24/7 over hype that you get from, say, a Malaysia Air crash.
Even though as many people are killed by trains. Maybe more: at least 1400 dead in the last decade.
Passenger rail is a big problem, for several reasons: It's slower than air travel on all but a handful of routes (say, Boston city center to New York city center), and that's mostly because the TSA screening processes at airports add 60-90 minutes to the travel time. This even applies to new rail technologies, like Japan's new Tokyo-Osaka 500 kph mag lev line. It's less convenient than air travel - the train only goes where there are tracks (duh!) while the airplane can fly to any place with an airport. There are also many more departures by air than by rail, so the traveler will have many more options on when to go. Lastly, it's much less expensive. While rail ticket prices are competitive with air, they are heavily subsidized by government. After all "sustainability" means "as long as the grants keep coming".
Can you think of any other mode of transportation that is still around despite that it is slower, less convenient, more expensive, and no safer than an alternative? The question is why is it still here?
The answer is that rail projects give big shot politicians prestige projects where they can, say, entertain visiting big shots in the grand new terminal or on shiny new high speed trains. High speed rail (and Light Rail) take money away from other transport projects that would, say, help the poor (e.g. increased urban bus frequency) to flatter the egos of those feeding from the public trough. It's actually the best example I can think of why "Technocratic Government" (management by the highly educated) is a mirage. A true technocratic government would kill Amtrak subsidies tomorrow and allocate the funds to something that would provide real value.