High speed rail has become a lucrative form of transportation, transforming the convenience and practicality of rail transport throughout the world.
Which countries have high speed rail? Countries that have high speed rail are Austria, Belgium, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Turkey, and United Kingdom.
These countries have invested heavily in high speed rail, and it continues to thrive due to the high element of safety within the systems, and the speed and reliability they encompass. Although covering every country listed above would be impossible in a single article, a selection of the most well-known systems will be discussed below.
Upon the commencement of the Tokaido Shinkansen in 1964, the craze of high speed rail (HSR) began throughout the world. Japan, an extremely mountainous country, encompassed various narrow gauge lines of 3 ft 6 in (1,067mm). The mountainous terrain and narrow gauge railway made for slow and unreliable travel, as the railway would have to traverse around the mountainous terrain, adding hours to commute times.
The Shinkansen project was quite a feat, as tunnels were blasted through mountains, while thousands of structures were built to bridge some of the earth’s most tumultuous terrain in order to provide quick, efficient transport in the Japanese topography.
The planning for the Shinkansen dates back to the 1940s, when a high speed passenger and freight railway was proposed between Tokyo and Shimonoseki, which would allow speeds of 120 mph (200 km/h). As a result, the project began, and tunnels were blasted through the earth in anticipation of the soon completed railway. However, with the onset of the war, plans were brought to an abrupt stop until the mid 1950s.
In the mid fifties, traffic was booming on the narrow gauge Tokaido Main Line, which connects Tokyo and Kobe. Thus, the idea of the Shinkansen project was resurrected, and planning began for the line between Tokyo and Osaka. The capabilities of the line were solidified when the Odakyu Electric Railway implemented their “Romancecar” trains, which set Japan’s narrow gauge speed record for 90 mph (145 kp/h). The success of the Romancecar cannot be overlooked, as it solidified to the project curators that the construction of a high speed standard gauge train could be readily achieved.
One of the reasons for the success of the Shinkansen was the country’s shift in mindset from the burgeoning airline and automotive industry, which commanded transportation projects in other parts of the world. In North America and Europe, governments were spending billions building and updating roads, leaving rail travel to fall into obsolescence.
The cost of construction for the Shinkansen was exponentially underrated, as it was originally expected to cost 200 billion Yen, however, once construction continued progressing, the cost skyrocketed to 400 billion yen, doubling the budget initially proposed. These cost fluctuations caused much turmoil within Japanese National Railways, as various executives stepped down from their positions.
The extreme cost was due to the need to build various new pieces of infrastructure to bridge the vast terrain. Furthermore, the line was not being constructed on preexisting track, instead, the Shinkansen was operated completely on dedicated track.
Amid the turmoil, operations of the Tokaido Shinkansen commenced on October 1, 1964, nearly cutting travel time in half compared to conventional trains between Tokyo and Osaka. The Shinkansen was a great success, reaching an astounding one billion passengers by 1976, just twelve years after beginning operations. The speed and reliability of the Shinkansen soon revolutionized the lifestyle of the country, as business people could travel between the two cities for meetings, and return home in time for dinner.
Due to the imminent success of the Shinkansen, various extensions of the line were proposed. Including the San Yo Shinkansen, connecting Okayama, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka in 1975, the Tohuku Shinkansen, linking Tokyo with Aomori and the Joetsu Skinkansen, linking Tokyo and Niigata. However, the construction of these various Shinkansen lines took a toll on Japan National Railways’ (JNR) finances, thus, after becoming debt ridden, the company was ultimately privatized in the late eighties. Thus, private entities, JR West, JR East, JR Central, JR Hokkaido, and JR Kyushu came to fruition, and Shinkansen development continued.
Astonishingly, since the commencement of the service in 1964, carrying over 100 billion passengers, the service has never encountered a passenger fatality due to an incident related to railway operations. The Shinkansen’s stellar safety record, even despite earthquakes and other natural disasters, exemplifies the possibilities in other countries throughout the world.
Punctuality is a key element of the Shinkansen system as well, as trains are rarely late, usually only be mere seconds. Additionally, even when dealing with natural disaster, especially Japan’s frequent earthquakes, delays are uncommon. This is oftentimes due to the Shinkansen’s utilization of a dedicated track, as it does not experience delays from slower trains.
Today, Shinkansen is more popular than ever before, and plays a major role in the country’s economy and lifestyle. Shinkansen continues to expand, as a line to Nagasaki is currently in the works, as well as the Chuo Maglev, which is planned to operate at speeds of 365 mph between Tokyo and Nagoya.
Due to the success of the Shinkansen in Japan, French train operator SNCF began researching the feasibility of high speed trains. During the construction of the Shinkansen in Japan, France was experimenting with the Aerotrain, which levitated much like a Maglev over a guide-way, however, the Aerotrain utilized an air cushion instead of magnetic levitation. The Aerotrain was considered a feasible entity, as the French government believed that the technology of the traditional train had been exhausted, thus, it was believed levitating trains were the way of the future.
The Aerotrain project, commanded by engineer Jean Bertin, sought to make France the example to the world with the introduction of levitating trains. The Aerotrain gained much international praise, as officials from various countries arrived in France to review its performance first-hand. The development of the Aerotrain eventually led to the conventional rail ROHC Turboliners, utilized domestically in France by SNCF, and in the United States by Amtrak.
The Aerotrain project was abandoned however, in favor of a conventional high speed rail line, called très grande vitesse (“very high speed”) or TGV for short. Interestingly, the very first prototype TGV train developed was powered by a gas turbine instead of electricity. Commissioned in 1969, and commencing testing in 1972, this prototype, dubbed “TGV 001” reached 198 mph, and set the speed record for a train powered by fossil fuels. TGV 001 was designed as an experimental set, and was meticulously designed to shatter speed records. Interestingly, an additional train-set in addition to TGV 001 was to be constructed with an active tilting mechanism, however, this never came to fruition.
However, due to economic difficulties such as the skyrocketing price of oil, it was decided to utilize electric trains, powered by overhead wires. Although utilization of a gas turbine was ultimately abandoned, the design of subsequent electric TGV’s were based on the 001. Perhaps the most important element derived from the gas turbine version was the articulated design between the passenger cars, as each car shared a bogey.
The first electric prototype was developed in 1974, which was extensively tested in various areas including speed and aerodynamics, which were perfected for the final production version which began construction in 1978. Two years earlier in 1976, funding for the Sud-Est LGV line was awarded, ultimately bringing the idea to fruition upon its completion just five years later on September 27,1981.
The construction of the TGV was meant to relieve the existing Paris-Lyon services from astronomical congestion, and shorten travel times between the two cities, which was quickly achieved. The TGV Sud-Est train sets were designed for speed, originally designed for 168 mph (270 kp/h), however, were later upgraded to 186 mph (300 kp/h).
Upon its commencement, the TGV proved popular, as ticket prices were not as expensive as SNCF’s earlier higher speed services, making the TGV service available to a broader customer base. The TGV was an imminent success, as ridership and travel time on the Sud-Est line outweighed the competition of airlines and automobiles between Paris and Lyon. The commencement of the LGV Sud-Est route revolutionized passenger rail in France, and throughout Europe, as many subsequent countries quickly followed suit.
Subsequent expansions of service have occurred throughout the TGV’s decades of service, as the service has expanded throughout France via the LGV East to Strasbourg, the Atlantique to Le Mans and Tours, and the LGV Nord to Lille, Brussels, and London via the Eurostar service. Certain services also operate to Milan, Genoa, and cities in Germany, via the TGV Oui Services. The first TGV line, the LGV Sud-Est, was expanded by the LGV Rhone-Alpes, which allows trains to serve the outskirts of Lyon, without passing through the bustling city center, and LGV Mediterranee, which connects the cities of Marseille and Nimes.
The TGV remains popular, as ridership continues to increase as various new connections are opened. Since 2006, ridership on the TGV has surpassed 100 million passengers, and continues to increase. Furthermore, the TGV system continues to increase as various new LGV’s continue to develop in the near future.
TGV Train Speeds
|168 mph (270 kp/h)
Rebuilt: 186 mph (300kp/h)
|190 mph (300 kp/h)
|200 mph (320 kp/h)
|190 mph (300 kp/h)
|200 mph (320 kp/h)
|190 mph (300 kp/h)
|200 mph (320 kp/h)
|Euroduplex (upgraded TGV Duplex)
|200 mph (320 kp/h)
China encompasses the largest high speed rail network in the world in terms of route miles, which makes the country’s progress with high-speed rail astonishing, as speeds considered HSR were not reached until 2007! The rapid expansion of the Chinese high-speed rail system boosted the country’s economy and improved lifestyle, as HSR has allowed residents throughout the country, even in the most remote locations, to be connected by rail.
The idea of high speed rail networks in China date back to the 1940s, upon the introduction of the steam powered Asia Express, which reached speeds of 81 mph (130 kp/h) during testing. However, speeds in conventional service reached only 68 mph (110 kp/h).
Modern high speed rail travel in China garnered attention in 1990, upon the Chinese government’s visit to Japan. Impressed with the speed, efficiency, and reliability of the Shinkansen, the Chinese government began implementing various campaigns supporting high speed rail service throughout the country.
Beginning in 1997, various campaigns coined “speed up” were implemented, in which various railways throughout the country were upgraded to accept 100 mph (160 kp/h) operation. These lines were designated as “sub high speed”, and began 100 mph operations with conventional locomotive hauled trains, however, with the implementation of the leased X 2000 high speed train set from Sweden, speeds were increased from 100 mph (160 kp/h), to 124 mph (200 kp/h), which operated on the then recently electrified Guangzhou-Shenzhen Railway.
Although high speed trains utilizing conventional rail were beginning to take shape, much debate ensued whether Magnetic Levitation (Maglev) technology should be utilized on the proposed route between Beijing and Shanghai. However, in 2000, Shanghai’s local government purchased a Maglev system from Germany, for use between Shanghai Pudong International Airport, and Shanghai’s city center, and was partially funded by the German government.
The Maglev proved to be much quicker than a conventional train, reaching operating speeds of 431 km/h (268 mph), and made the trip between the airport and the city in a mere 7 1/2 minutes. Although the Maglev connecting the city with the airport was successful, the cost associated with construction proved to be its major flaw, thus, citing the excessive cost, a conventional high speed rail line was brought to fruition between Shanghai and Hangzhou.
The final “speed up” campaign brought speeds of 155 mph (250 kp/h) to existing rail lines through the implementation of the CRH Series of high speed trains, which were initially constructed by manufacturers such as Bombardier and Alstom, however, later began being domestically produced.
Unlike Japan’s Shinkansen, some of China’s high-speed trains share tracks with slower trains, especially those constructed to link rural communities with various cities. However, dedicated high speed lines are prevalent, and are designated passenger dedicated lines (PDL), where speeds can range from 190-220 mph (300-350 kp/h). The first operation of a PDL commenced in 2008, linking Beijing and Tianjin in northern China. Subsequent PDLs have been constructed, including the Beijing- Shanghai high-speed railway in 2011. China’s HSR experienced further expansion in 2014, with the opening of various trunk and intercity lines reaching nearly thirty provinces throughout the country.
Through its feverish expansion over recent years, China now encompasses the largest high-speed rail network in the world, with a total of 18,000 miles (29,000 km) of HSR, and is expected to increase further to 24,000 miles (38,000 km), in the coming years.
Germany’s high speed rail service, the Intercity Express (ICE), is an extensive system that crosses international borders, serving in addition to Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark and France.
High speed rail in Germany came to fruition shortly after the commencement of France’s first TGV line, the LGV Sud-Est. However, due to various political disagreements, construction was delayed significantly. Nevertheless, in 1985, high speed rail began to come to fruition, as the first prototype, the “Intercity Experimental” or ICE-V, set a world speed record, reaching 253 mph (406.9 kp/h) in 1988.
Forty-one production train sets were ordered in 1988, with 20 additional train sets being ordered by 1990. Service commenced in 1991, with the first generation “ICE 1” train sets providing hourly service between Hamburg and Altona. Subsequent expansions of service throughout the country consist of various North-South, and East-West lines, connecting various major cities and other centers of commerce.
International services include trains between Duisburg and Amsterdam, Koln Hbf and Brussels, Saarbrucken Hbf to Paris, Basel SBB to Interlaken and Zurich, Switzerland, Munchen Hbf to Innsbruck and Wien Westbf, Austria, and Passau to Wien Westbf, Austria.
Throughout the ICE train’s existence, various generations of trains have been utilized, ranging from ICE 1-ICE4.
Delivered beginning in 1988, the ICE 1 train sets ushered in the era of high-speed rail in Germany. Produced by Siemens, the ICE 1 has a top speed of 174 mph (280 km/h), and served the network during commencement in 1991. These trains remain in service, as they were refurbished between 2005 and 2008. Oftentimes, the ICE 1 can be distinguished from the ICE 2 due to its power cars on each end.
Introduced between 1995 and 1997, the ICE 2 train sets built by Adtranz and Siemens were similar to the ICE 1, however, they lack dual power cars, as one end is equipped with a driving van trailer (DVT), and includes lighter passenger cars, and air suspension. The ICE 2 has a top speed of 170 mph (280 kp/h).
Manufactured by Siemens as part of their Velaro line, the ICE 3 was delivered in 2000, and is quite different from the previous generations of ICE trains. The ICE three is not equipped with power cars, as each axle of the train is powered, called an electric multiple unit (EMU). The ICE 3 is significantly lighter than its previous counterparts, and has a top speed of 200 mph (320 kp/h).
Built by Siemens, in collaboration with Bombardier and Voith, delivery and testing of the ICE 4 began in 2015, and is slated to replace the ICE 1 and ICE 2 train sets. The ICE 4 has a top speed of 155 mph (250 kp/h), and is the latest addition to the ICE series of trains. Although numerous train sets have been delivered, production is currently on hold until various frame issues are rectified.
ICE T and TD
Manufactured by Siemens and introduced on the ICE network in 1999, the ICE T, was a tilting version of the ICE train, in order to more easily navigate turns. These trains were employed on conventional intercity lines to replace locomotive hauled trains. The tilting mechanism was designed for the train to traverse the tighter turns of the conventional network. The ICE T has a maximum speed of 140 mph (230 kp/h).
The ICE TD, was a diesel powered version of the ICE T, as an effort to introduce ICE technology to various non-electrified lines, however, were removed from service in 2016, due to the high cost of refurbishment. Throughout its operating life, the ICE TD experienced high maintenance costs, which was a major factor to its eventual retirement. The ICE TD performed well throughout its operating life, however, reaching speeds of up to 124 mph (200 kp/h).