A New York Observer article on Amtrak's recently delivered electric locomotives (the latest successor to the GG-1 to fail to match the longevity or reliability of the GG-1) refers to the motors as "Fat, Expensive, and Slow" and makes invidious comparisons to ... of course .. the Europeans (from whence all Proper Passenger Trains flow).
Other countries use high-quality signaling to prevent collisions from happening in the first place, and crumple zones to protect light trains in case it does happen. The [Federal Railroad Administration], on the other hand, insists that American trains be bulked up to survive crashes with minimal deformation, with all of the inefficiencies that heavier trains that must be specially ordered entail.
That article came to my attention about the same time a fatal passenger train train derailment occurred in the Paris banlieues. There's something to be said for collision posts and tight-lock couplers.
[France's minister of transportation, Frederic Cuvillier] said that the train had been properly inspected for safety but that intercity trains needed "modernization," in contrast to the country's well-regarded high-speed trains. "We cannot be satisfied with moving material that is 30 years old," he said. "The situation is severe, with the degradation in recent years of traditional train lines, due to a lack of resources," he said.

An organization for railroad users, AVUC, has also publicly denounced the state of "trash trains" in France and called for their improvement.
If I understand this statement, some resources employed in building the Lignes Grande Vitesse are resources diverted from the existing rail network.  Opportunity costs are everywhere.  Or perhaps French austerity is at work.

Taken together, though, North American crashworthiness standards are not inefficient per se.

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