The railroad systems of most of the major countries of western Europe share a number of characteristics. Most have a long history of government operation and ownership (with minor exceptions) and use standard gauge, except for Spain and Portugal, which use the wider 1.67 m (5.5 ft) gauge. Also, most railroads have a high degree of modernization, resulting partly from the vast destruction of track and trains during World War II. Western European rail systems are fairly integrated among neighboring countries, making travel between countries efficient.
Railways in eastern European countries also share common characteristics: direct government ownership and operation since the end of World War II, standard gauge, an emphasis on serving the needs of heavy industry, and relatively well integrated systems. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to increased integration of western and eastern European economies as well as their rail transport systems, most particularly in reunified Germany.
In the 1980s the major western European systems developed frequent-service high-speed passenger systems to compete with air travel. France led with the train a grande vitesse (TGV) projects, followed by efforts in Germany, Italy, and Sweden.
The German Deutsche Bundesbahn (DB) rail system features the high-speed ICE (Intercity Express), which travels at 250 km/h (155 mph). The Italians have pursued higher-speed services with a series of ETR (ElettroTreno Rapido) trains that can travel 300 km/h (190 mph). The Italian double-track high-speed project to join Naples, Rome, Florence, and Milan is progressing slowly, and the Rome-Naples line is not expected to be completed until 2007. The completion of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 provided a direct rail link between France and England and opened opportunities for enhanced passenger and freight traffic between the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe.