While politicians, lobbyists and NIMBY-minded residents are still debating the merits and flaws of the approved high-speed rail system that will run from San Francisco to Los Angeles, HSR has been a standard mode of travel in Europe and Asia for decades. Almost half a century after Japan developed the first of its Shinkansen “bullet train” rail lines in 1964, the United States has been slower to adopt this form of transit.
Currently, Amtrak’s Acela Express line from Boston to Washington, D.C. is the only operational HSR line in the nation. With average train speeds less than 90 mph, the Amtrak line “does not even qualify as high-speed,” according to Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica.
Comparatively, Europe’s and Asia’s bullet trains rarely travel at average speeds less than 150 mph. The new west coast HSR train is supposed to reach speeds exceeding 200 mph through California’s Central Valley, but the United States still has a lot of catching up to do to reach the levels of investment, infrastructure and technological development, and geographical scope achieved by Europe and Asia.
Below are some of the HSR trains from around the world that have left this country in the dust.JR-Maglev MLX01 — Japan • Top Speed: 361 mph • Rail Type: Maglev
Japan’s status as the first adopter of high-speed rail in 1964 has made it a prime innovator and trailblazer in HSR technology. Currently, there is a network of seven Shinkansen passenger and freight bullet train lines spanning the entire country, with the Tokaido Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka as its main artery. As traditional steel-wheels-on-steel-rail technology reaches its limits, however, JR-Central, the trains’ owner and operator, has continued its decades-long research into maglev technology, which uses high powered magnets to levitate the train above the rails for faster speeds and reduced friction. Achieved in 2003, the MLX01 train holds the record for fastest train in the world. JR-Central has been investing in infrastructure to develop a maglev rail system independent of the extant Shinkansen network that could attain reliable speeds up to 310 mph. JR hopes to have the Tokyo-Osaka Chuo Shinkansen maglev line running by 2045.
TGV POS — France • Top Speed: 357 mph • Rail type: Conventional Wheel
The TGV POS is the record-setting crown jewel in the fleet of France’s Train à Grande Vitesse, a network of rail lines owned and operated by the French national railway corporation, SNCF. The ever-growing TGV rail service is itself part of Rail Europe, the expansive network of lines that extends from the north and east of the continent down to the Mediterranean Sea. The TGV POS, so named for its Paris-Ostfrankreich-Süddeutschland (Paris - Eastern France - Southern Germany) route, is one of the latest operational trains in a long history of bullet trains that were developed in France in the late 1970s. As TGV expanded to neighboring countries, trains like the POS were made to travel at high speeds for longer distances - Paris to Germany, in this case. The V150, a souped-up version of the POS train, was built specifically to break the wheeled rail speed record and did so by clocking in at 357.2 mph (574.8 kph) on the LGV Est line in April 2007. The MLX01 in Japan has this record beat by a mere 4 mph, but the TGV POS still holds the title of fastest wheeled train.
Official Record Video
Shanghai Maglev — China • Top Speed: 311 mph • Rail Type: Maglev
The Shanghai Maglev train runs on an 18-mile stretch of track from the Shanghai Pudong International airport to the western part of the Pudong Region with no stops in between and each trip lasting about eight minutes. The short length of the track lends itself to a high operational speed of 268 mph, which is currently the record for commercial trains. The national railway system China Railway High-Speed (CRH) owns and operates the vast network of rail lines serving the largest population in the world. The cost limitations associated with maglev technology were the main deterrent to maglev infrastructure development. However, China announced that it would couple this with vacuum tube/tunnel technology to create a vacutrain that would reach speeds of 1000 kph (621 mph), almost twice as fast as the the current rail record holder. At an estimated construction cost of $22 million per kilometer, it will prove to be a daunting economic and technological feat, if successful.
CRH380A — China • Top Speed: 302 mph • Rail Type: Conventional Wheel
As China continues as a modern engine of innovation, it has had to face the consequences of developing at breakneck speed. Critics of the country's rail network, the largest in the world, say the speed - both of the trains and infrastructure development - and ambition of HSR projects have had negative, sometimes deadly, results. In July of last year, an accident involving two high speed trains in China's eastern Zhejiang province ended in 40 deaths. There have been issues with overcrowded trains and ticketing malfunctions. Notwithstanding, it is undeniable that Chinese rail authority has become a leader in HSR development. One of latest of the Sino-Shinkansen iterations of the Japanese bullet trains, the CRH380A was tested at a record speed of 302 mph. It is utilized commercially at an operating speed of 186 mph.
ICE V — Germany • Top Speed: 252.8 mph • Rail Type: Conventional Wheel
Though a top speed of 253 mph might not seem impressive comparatively, Germany’s InterCityExperiment - Versuch prototype is one of the few European trains not developed in France to have officially exceeded 200 mph. It set that land speed record in 1988. The ICE V test train was the result of a joint effort between the German government and the railway company Deutsche Bundesbahn, which still operates numerous ICE HSR lines throughout Germany under the name Deutsche Bahn. The ICE V served as a model for the modern ICE rail system, now called Intercity Express. The ICE 1 began passenger service in 1991, the same year the record was broken by the TGV Atlantique, a close relative of the POS trains.