In the past decade, ambitious high-speed rail projects have condensed Europe, reducing travel times–often by more than half–on principal routes like Madrid-Barcelona (was: 9 hours; now: 3) and London-Brussels (travel speed: 208 mph).

This December, a shiny new bullet train will begin plying the tracks between Moscow and St. Petersburg. The red-and-silver Sapsan–which emerged from years of halting talks between the Russian government and Germany-based Siemens company–will traverse the 400 miles between the cities in just three hours and 45 minutes, beating airline timetables by more than an hour. The name means "peregrine falcon."

Now governments and railways are laying the groundwork (literally and figuratively) for the coveted Euro-Soviet connection. Rumor has it that infrastructure and policy work is underway to extend high-speed service from Berlin into Moscow by 2014. The route would reduce the arduous two-day journey (which passes through both Poland and Belarus) to a comfortable 16-hour overnighter.

Meanwhile, in the United States, rail travel continues to languish under the slow, insolvent Amtrak. But there may be a light at the end of the (train) tunnel. According to a September 29 article in the New York Times, “the economic stimulus passed by Congress in April includes a five-year, $13 billion high-speed rail program. Siemens…hopes to take advantage of it.”

Calling the U.S. “a developing country in terms of rail”, Ansgar Brockmeyer, a Siemens representative, says the company sees the Obama administration’s new focus on trains as “a huge opportunity.”

As do we.

Catesby Holmes is an assistant research editor at Travel + Leisure.