The number of countries operating high-speed rail (HSR) is expected to almost double over the next few years, according to new research by the Worldwatch Institute.

The increase in HSR is mainly due to its growing reliability and the ability to cover vast geographic distances in a short time, reaching isolated regions and reducing the need for air travel.

According to the report, 14 countries are currently operating HSR and this number is likely to increase to 24 by the year 2014.

The fleet of HSR trainsets worldwide has grown from 1,737 in January 2008 to 2,517 trainsets in January 2011, two thirds of which were in just five countries: France, China, Japan, Germany and Spain.

The number of trains is expected to increase to 3,700 by 2014.

The length of track has expanded from 10,700km to 17,000km between 2009 and 2011, and 8,000km are currently under construction with some 17,700km of tracks at the planning stage.

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The total track length is expected to reach 43,000km, which is about 4% of all rail lines – passenger and freight.