If you have experienced high-speed trains as I have recently in France, you know that they operate significantly faster than the traditional rail traffic. The first system began in
Japan in 1964 and was known as the bullet train. (An actual bullet can travel at 180-1220 m/s.) These trains tend to operate on standard gauge tracks of continuously welded rail on grade separated right-of-way that incorporates a large turning radius in its design.
Unfortunately, recently in Spain, we saw what happens when a high-speed train such as the
Renfe Class 130 tries to corner an 80 kph turn at 180 kph. It pulled eight passenger carriages with 247 people aboard was travelling from Madrid to Ferrol when it
suddenly derailed near Santiago de Compostela. It seems that as technology progresses, so does the capacity of trains to travel at ever faster speeds and with these higher speeds, the chances for deadly crashes also increase.
AVE Class 102 Pato, aka duck, in 2013 crash in Spain
Nonetheless, since 1964, many countries such as
South Korea and Spain in addition to Japan have developed high-speed rail to connect major cities. As of 2012, the maximum commercial speed on most high-speed rail lines was about 300 km/h (185 mph). And while high-speed rail is usually designed for passenger travel, some high-speed systems also offer freight service.
The French mail service La Poste owns a few special TGV trains simply for carrying postal freight.
Following the French TGV, in 1991, Germany was the second European country to inaugurate a high-speed rail service with the launch of the Intercity-Express (ICE) on the new Hannover-Würzburg high speed railway, operating at a top speed of 280 km/h. The German ICE train broke the world speed record in 1988, reaching 406 km/h.
In 1992, in time for the Barcelona Olympic Games and the Seville Expo, the Madrid-Seville high-speed rail line opened in Spain. In 2005, the Spanish Government announced an ambitious plan such that by 2020, 90 percent of the population would live within 50 km (30 mi) of a station served by AVE. Spain began building the largest HSR network in Europe and as of December 2010, the Spanish AVE system is the longest HSR network in Europe and the second in the world, after China.
In 1993, a Northeast US new train service was named
"Acela Express" and it linked Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC from December, 2000 onwards. It has operated at a profit and as of 2012, it has produced 25% of Amtrak's total service revenue. It runs on regular lines which limit its average speed, although it does reach a maximum speed of 240 km/h (149 mph) on a small section of its route through Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Amtrak proposed a plan to build one dedicated high-speed rail line between Washington D.C. and Boston at an estimated cost of $151 billion, taking more than 25 years to fully design and build. The proposed rail line would allow for top speeds of 220 mph (354 km/h).
For four decades from its opening in 1964, the Japanese Shinkansen was the only high speed rail service outside of Europe. In the 2000s a number of new high speed rail services started operating in East Asia.
In South Korea, Korea Train Express (KTX) services were launched on 1 April 2004, on the Seoul-Busan corridor, Korea's busiest traffic corridor, between the two largest cities. Construction began on a high-speed line from Seoul to Busan in 1992 with the first commercial service launching in 2004. Top speed for trains in regular service is currently 305 km/h (190 mph), though the infrastructure is designed for 350 km/h (217 mph). South Korea is the world's fourth country after France, Japan and China to develop a high-speed train running on conventional rail above 420 km/h (261 mph).
State planning for China's high speed railway began in the early 1990s, and the country started construction of its first high speed rail line, the Qinhuangdao-Shenyang Passenger Railway, in 1999, which subsequently opened in 2003 with a design speed of 200 km/h. In 2008, China opened the "Wuhan - Guangzhou" high-speed line at 350 km/h, the first line at that speed. Until July 2011, when the maximum speed was lowered to 300 km/h, it was the fastest line in the world. As of 2011, China has the world's longest high-speed rail network with 8,358 km of tracks. The network is still rapidly expanding to create the 4+4 National High Speed Rail Grid by 2015. On 25 December 2012, China opened the world's longest high-speed rail line, which runs 2,208 km (1,372 mi) from the country's capital Beijing in the north to Shenzhen on the southern coast.
On 26 December 2012, the world's longest high-speed line opened in China; the
Beijing-Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong High-Speed Railway at 2,298 kilometres (1,428 mi).
Taiwan High Speed Rail's first and only HSR line opened for service on 5 January 2007, using Japanese trains with a top speed of 300 km/h (186 mph). The service runs 345 kilometres (214 mi) from Taipei Railway Station to Xinzuoying Station in as little as 96 minutes. Once THSR began operations, almost all passengers switched from airlines flying parallel routes while road traffic was also reduced.
Iconic image of the Tokaido Shinkansen high-speed line in Japan, with Mount Fuji in the background