How Fast Do Bullet Trains Go?

Since the Japanese Shinkansen was introduced in 1964, high speed rail has been a popular topic in many countries throughout the world, however, only a number of countries have been able to implement the technology. One of the most important aspects concerning the bullet train is the speed in which they travel.

So, how fast do bullet trains go? 200 MPH (321 KPH). Most bullet trains reach at least 200 mph, as the Japanese Shinkansen operates at up to 200 mph, however, speed varies by country, as the French TGV operates at 186 mph.

Maximum speeds of the world’s various high speed rail networks vary significantly. However, any rail network that exceeds 186 mph (300 KMH), is considered high speed.

Japanese Shinkansen- The First High Speed Rail Line

The genesis of modern high speed rail began in Japan in 1964, when the very first Shinkansen line, the Tokaido Line, opened between the capital of Tokyo, and Osaka. Shinkansen, translated to English as , “new trunk line”, was designed to promote economic growth, connecting Tokyo to the country’s distant cities. Upon the service’s commencement on October 1, 1964, the venerable 0 Series Shinkansen’s made their debut on the Hikari bullet train service. These first trains earned the title “bullet train”, due to their bullet like noses, and fast top speed of 130 mph.

An impressive lineup of various models of the Japanese Shinkansen system. The second train in the photo is the 0 Series Shinkansen, the first series to be introduced in 1964.

The original Tokaido Line has carried 5.6 billion passengers since its commencement, and operates thirteen, sixteen car trains in either direction during rush hour, each train operating just three minutes between trains. In the 2016-2017 period the Tokaido Line carried 159 million passengers, mainly due to its frequent, efficient, and fast service.

The speed and efficiency of the bullet train is credited to its use of dedicated tracks, and lack of sharp turns. While building the Shinkansen line, thousands of bridges and tunnels were constructed, blasting through some of the world’s toughest terrain. Interestingly, the curators of Shinkansen didn’t see speed as a main focus, rather their goal was to construct a rail line that would move larger numbers of people, as efficiently as possible.

The Shinkansen improved the viability of rail service in Japan, as previously, slow narrow gauge trains were given the tumultuous task of scaling mountains, and other rough terrain, rendering rail transportation slow and inefficient, especially in the sense of the everyday commuter. However, during its construction, many believed the construction of the rail line was misguided, due to the emerging automobile and airline industries. Additional criticism revolved around the gauge the Shinkansen would utilize, as the standard gauge of 4 ft 8 1/2 inches rendered the Shinkansen incompatible with other railways throughout the country.

As the bullet train increased in popularity, subsequent lines were opened throughout Japan, with speeds eventually increasing to 200 mph. Japan’s bullet trains are so popular, that many visitors to the country want to experience the Shinkansen for themselves. Since the commencement of services in 1964, Japan’s high speed rail system has carried billions of passengers throughout the country. The network is increasingly safe, as the Shinkansen is one of the few transport systems in the world that has not experienced a major incident.

Interestingly, Japan has invested heavily in Maglev technology, and currently holds the world speed record for a Maglev train, reaching 375 mph (603 km/h) in 2015. Japan’s Maglev, dubbed Chuo Shinkansen, is under construction to connect the cities of Tokyo and Nagoya, with various intermediary stops in between. The Maglev is planned to reduce travel time between the two cities to just 40 minutes, reaching a maximum speed of 314 mph (505 kp/h).

China’s Vast High-speed Rail Network

Introduced in 2007, China Railway High-speed (CRH) has been the pinnacle of rail transport throughout China. In 2008, services commenced on the Beijing-Tianjin intercity line, China’s very first dedicated high-speed passenger railway. China is also home to the world’s longest high-speed railway line, the Beijing-Shanghai high speed railway, which stretches 1,428 miles (2,298 km), while trains reach the continuous cruising speed of 217 mph.

High-speed rail in China was developed much later than its Japanese counterpart, however, the Chinese high-speed rail system has quickly surpassed that of Japan in terms of both speed and track mileage. In just a decade, the Chinese high-speed rail system has expanded to connect the most populous areas of China, with the most rural areas of the country.

China boasts the world’s longest high-speed rail network, with 18,000 miles (29,000 km) of high speed rail service. China also encompasses the world’s fastest trains, traveling anywhere between 150 mph -217 mph (250-350 KPH). Since the beginning of the 20th century, Chinese high-speed rail has developed rapidly. Astonishingly, in 2007, there was one high-speed rail corridor in the Northeast of China, however, the rail network has grown exponentially in subsequent years.

Between 2005-2006, when high-speed rail was beginning to come to fruition, many Chinese manufacturers sought to build high-speed train sets domestically, such as the DJJ2 or “China Star”, which reached a top speed of 199 mph (321KPH). Although fast, the DJJ2 and other domestic designs proved unreliable, thus, Chinese officials searched abroad for a suitable train. The proven Japanese Shinkansen design was considered, however, due to political disputes, and the desire to build the trains domestically, other options were considered.

Therefore, the decision was solidified to contract outside builders, however, the trains were to be assembled in China. Siemens, Bombardier, Alstom, and Kawasaki were contracted to construct the train sets, each being rewarded a contract for a certain number of trains. However, engineers associated with CRH began developing reliable components, once supplied by foreign companies, therefore, construction of high-speed train sets began commencing domestically at the state owned CRRC Corporation. These efforts resulted in the CRH380A train set, which entered service in 2010.

In addition to conventional rail services, China is also home to the world’s only revenue generating Maglev train, which carries passengers from Pudong International Airport-Longyang Road station in Shanghai. Traveling at speeds of up to 268 mph (431 km/h), the Maglev completes the 18.95 mile (30.5 km/h) journey in just 8 minutes. Furthermore, the train can accelerate to 217 mph (350 km/h) in just two minutes!

Extensions of the line reaching Hangzhou have been discussed, however, due to the immense cost of construction and maintenance, a conventional high-speed railway was constructed instead.


Speed of Chinese High Speed Trains

DJJ1 146.4 mph (235.6 kp/h)
DJF2 181.9 mph (292.8 kp/h)
DJJ2 199 mph (321 kp/h)
CRH1 155 mph (250 kp/h)
CRH380D 236 mph (380 (kp/h)
CRH2 155 mph (250 km/h)

Stage 1: 217 mph (350 kp/h)

Stage 2: 236 mph (380 kp/h)

CRH3 CRH3C: 217 mph (350 kp/h)

CRH380B, CRH380BL, CRH380CL: 236 mph (380 kp/h)

CRH5 155 mph (250 kp/h)

France’s TGV

Upon the commencement of Japan’s Shinkansen in 1964, the idea of high-speed rail began to gain feasibility. Beginning in 1981, France unveiled its first TGV line the Sud-Est line, connecting Paris with the suburbs of Lyon. The TGV came to fruition after prior experiments in the 1960s and 70s, including the infamous Aerotrain, which reached speeds of up to 267.4 mph (430.4 kp/h), which was unprecedented during this time. With the announcement of the TGV in September 1975, interest in the Aerotrain began to fade, in favor of a conventional high-speed rail system.

Paul Harvey

The TGV is known for its world class speed, and breaking the speed record for conventional train in 2007, when a modified TGV Duplex, built by Alstom, reached 357.2 mph (574.8 kp/h) on April 3, 2007. Furthermore, the TGV holds the record for the quickest scheduled passenger train, averaging 173.6 mph (279.4 kp/h). Similar to Japan’s Shinkansen, the TGV’s reputation for safety is well demonstrated, as there have been zero fatalities on a revenue service throughout its decades of service.

Interestingly, the speed of the TGV was not reserved just for passenger transport. Beginning in 1984, special train sets designed for transporting mail were placed into service, sponsored by French mail carrier “La Poste”. This service proved to be the fastest cargo train in the world, traveling at speeds of up to 168 mph (270 kp/h). However, in 2015, due to logistical modifications being carried out at La Poste, the mail services have been transferred to road instead of rail, being transported by truck.

TGV Sud-Est 168 mph (270 kp/h)

Rebuilt: 186 mph (300kp/h)

TGV Atlantique 190 mph (300 kp/h)
TGV Reseau 200 mph (320 kp/h)
TGV TMST 190 mph (300 kp/h)
TGV Duplex 200 mph (320 kp/h)
Thalys PBKA 190 mph (300 kp/h)
TGV POS 200 mph (320 kp/h)
Euroduplex 200 mph (320 kp/h)


Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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