As the world grapples with climate change , short-haul flights are looking less and less appealing to many travelers. The phenomenon of ” flygskam ” (shame of flying), which began in Scandinavia, is already inspiring many travelers to reduce their dependence on airlines.
Until someone proves otherwise, the high-speed train is the most efficient alternative to the plane for trips of up to 1,100 kilometers.
Moving passengers between city centers at speeds of 180 miles per hour or more, it offers a compelling combination of speed and convenience.
The railway’s ability to move large numbers of people quickly makes it much more efficient than untested, low-capacity concepts like the Hyperloop .
Since the 1980s, hundreds of billions of dollars have been invested in new high-speed, high-capacity railways in Europe and Asia, with Japan’s Shinkansen and France’s Train a Grand Vitesse (TGV) pioneering.
In the past decade, China has become the undisputed world leader, building a 38,000-kilometre network of new railways that reach almost every corner of the country.
Spain, Germany, Italy, Belgium and England are expanding the European network and other countries are expected to follow by the 2030s.
In 2018, Africa got its first high-speed rail with the opening of the Al-Boraq line in Morocco and Egypt looks set to join the club before the 2020s are out.
In the rest of the world, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan have established high-speed routes, and India, Thailand, Russia and the United States are part of a growing group of nations committed to building new railways. in which the trains will circulate between the main cities at speeds of over 250 km/h.
But where will you be able to travel on the world’s fastest trains in 2022?
1. Shanghai Maglev – 460 km/h (China)
The fastest public train in the world is also unique: it is the only link in the world that currently transports passengers using magnetic levitation ( Maglev ) instead of conventional steel wheels on steel rails.
It connects Shanghai Pudong Airport with Longyang Road Station in the city center and has a maximum commercial speed of 460 km/h, completing the 30-kilometre journey in just seven and a half minutes.
Based on German technology, the maglev trains fly along an elevated track, and powerful magnets provide a super-smooth, friction-free ride.
Building on experience gained over more than a decade of regular operation, China has developed its own 600 km/h maglev trains and has ambitious plans to create a maglev network, including a line between Shanghai and Hangzhou.
2. CR400 ‘Fuxing’ – 350km/h (China)
In addition to having the world’s longest network of high-speed lines, China now has the fastest regular trains on the planet.
CR400 “Fuxing” trains run at a commercial maximum of 350 km/h, but have successfully reached 420 km/h in testing. Fuxing trains, a statement of intent for China’s burgeoning railway technology industry, have been developed from previous generations of high-speed trains, which were based on technology imported from Europe and Japan.
With a length of up to 16 cars and a maximum capacity of 1,200 passengers, this impressive family of trains is packed with new features, such as in-seat entertainment, smart glass screens, wireless device charging, “smart cabins” and even variants designed for extreme weather conditions and autonomous operation, the latter being the only automatic high-speed trains in the world.
The faster variants of the CR400 are currently used on the main Beijing-Shanghai-Hong Kong and Beijing-Harbin routes.
3. ICE3 – 330 km/h (Germany)
Germany’s world-renowned InterCity Express (ICE) brand encompasses a broad family of fast trains deployed on a wide variety of routes.
The fastest member of the “White Worm” family, however, is the 330 km/h ICE3, which has been around since 1999. These sleek machines were built for the 180-kilometre Cologne-Frankfurt high-speed line, and from 2002 have reduced the travel time between the two cities from two hours and 30 minutes to just 62 minutes.
Normal operating speed is 300 km/h, but the ICE3s are authorized to reach 330 km/h when delayed. In the tests a maximum of 368 km/h was reached. The key to the ICE3’s performance is the 16 electric motors spread across the eight-car train, delivering a whopping 11,000 horsepower.
The ICE3 fleet operates throughout Germany and includes trains for international routes, connecting major German cities with Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels.
The design also forms the basis for Siemens’ “Velaro” family of high-speed trains, which have been sold to Spain, Russia, Turkey, China and to Eurostar for their second-generation international trains.
4. TGV — 320 km/h (France)
France has long held the world speed record for conventional trains, set at a staggering 574.8 km/h on April 3, 2007. At 150 meters per second, that’s almost double the normal scheduled maximum of the services of the Train a Grand Vitesse or High-Speed Train (TGV), recognized throughout the world as a pioneer of high-speed rail technology.
Europe’s first high-speed network remains the best known and most successful, reaching far beyond the borders of France. The French railway industry has been progressively pushing the limits of what is possible with conventional trains since the Second World War, breaking existing records in 1955 (331 km/h), 1981 (380 km/h) and 1990 (515, 3 km/h).
Today, high-speed lines run from Paris to Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Nantes, Strasbourg, Lille, Brussels and London, with trains running at 320 km/h on some routes. Over the last 40 years, trains have evolved through several generations as the network has expanded.
The iconic orange TGVs of the 1980s have given way to more advanced and higher capacity “duplex” trains, capable of reaching neighboring countries such as Germany, Switzerland and Spain.
High-speed rail is also a huge export success, with TGV technology sold to Spain, South Korea, Taiwan, Morocco, Italy and the United States in the last 30 years.
5. JR East E5 – 320km/h (Japan)
Japan introduced the world to the concept of new high-speed railways in 1964 and continues to be a world leader, exceeding speed, capacity and safety limits on its Shinkansen lines.
While most Shinkansen currently run at a maximum speed of 300 km/h, Japan Railways East’s (JR East) E5 “bullet trains” run at speeds of up to 320 km/h on the Tohoku Shinkansen, which runs north of Tokyo to Shin-Aomori.
Each train has 731 seats and 32 electric induction motors that offer an impressive 12,900 horsepower.
Constructed from a lightweight aluminum alloy, the E5s feature ‘active suspension’ that enables them to speed through corners.
The extra long nose of the driving car was designed to reduce the sonic booms that occur when trains enter tunnels at high speed.
Introduced in 2011, 59 trains were built and since 2016 they are also used north of Aomori on the Hokkaido Shinkansen, which is connected to Japan’s main island Honshu by the 54-kilometre Seikan underwater tunnel under the strait. from Tsugaru.
6. “Al-Boraq” – 320 km/h (Morocco)
Africa ‘s first, and so far only, high-speed railway opened in November 2018, linking the port city of Tangier with Casablanca in Morocco.
Dubbed “Al-Boraq” after a mythical creature that carried Islamic prophets, the service is the first phase of the country’s planned 1,500-kilometre high-speed network.
French-made TGV Euroduplex electric double-deck trains run at 320 km/h on a new 186 km line between Tangier and Kenitra.
The $2 billion project also includes upgrading the existing 137-kilometre section between Rabat and Casablanca to increase speed, reducing travel time from 4 hours and 45 minutes to just 2 hours and 10 minutes.
Once the proposed new line to Casablanca is built, travel time will be reduced to just 90 minutes.
Al-Boraq also holds the African rail speed record: during pre-service tests in 2017, one of the 12 trains built by Alstom reached 357 km/h on the new line, more than double the speed of the following fastest trains currently running on the African continent.
7. AVE S-103 – 310 km/h (Spain)
Spain joined the high-speed club in 1992 using TGV technology imported from France. Since then, it has developed its own ultra-fast trains and built the largest network of long-distance lines in Europe, stretching from Madrid to Seville, Malaga, Valencia, Galicia and Barcelona.
The AVE, short for Spanish High Speed, but also meaning “bird”, usually operates at a maximum commercial speed of 310 km/h. The pride of the fleet are the S-102 Talgo and S-103 “Velaro” trains, the latter a more powerful relative of the German ICE3.
Certified for a maximum speed of 350 km/h and with a capacity of 404 seats, the S-103s share services between the two largest cities in Spain with the nationally manufactured Talgo S-102 high-speed trains.
In July 2006, an S-103 broke the Spanish railway speed record with 404 km/h, at the time a world record for an unmodified commercial passenger train.
For many decades, Spanish railways were famous for their slow speeds and long delays, but in the last 30 years the AVE has transformed long-distance travel across the country and, with the network expanded again to reach all corners of the country, the revolution looks set to continue.
8. KTX – 305km/h (South Korea)
Since 2004, South Korea has rapidly expanded its high-speed rail network, bypassing classic lines where difficult terrain made travel times slow and uncompetitive.
Starting from the Seoul-Busan route in 2004, KTX trains can run at a speed of up to 330 km/h, although the usual limit is 305 km/h. The first generation of KTX-I trains, based on French TGV technology, have cut the Seoul-Busan journey time in half, from more than four hours to just two hours and 15 minutes.
South Korea is one of only four countries in the world to have developed a train capable of running at more than 420 km/h, along with France, Japan and China. A new-generation HEMU-430X prototype reached 421.4 km/h in 2013, beating the previous Korean railway speed record of 352.4 km/h set by a second-generation KTX HSR-350x train.
The latest trains use proprietary technology and feature triple-glazed, pressure-sealed cabins to reduce noise and eliminate disturbance in the many tunnels.
With up to two departures every hour on major routes and trains of up to 20 cars, KTX is a high-speed mass transit system that carries hundreds of millions of passengers a year. KTX trains also connect Seoul with Gwangju, Mokpo and Yeosu in the south of the country, and with Gangneung in the northeast, the latter built to serve the host city of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018.
9. Trenitalia ETR1000 – 300 km/h (Italy)
The Italian State Railways’ impressive Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) high-speed trains were introduced in 2017 in response to a new privately owned rival.
Designed for a top speed of 400 km/h, they live up to their name with an aerodynamic arrow-shaped design, 10,000 horsepower and electrifying performance.
Although it is authorized for a maximum speed of 360 km/h in passenger service, one train reached 394 km/h in a test carried out in 2016.
The 200-meter-long trains have 457 seats in four classes ranging from comfortable standard to business, premium and executive, the latter with 10 reclining seats and seat service.
Red Arrow services run along Italy’s T-shaped high-speed network, linking Turin, Milan and Venice in the north with Bologna, Florence, Rome and Naples.
Normal business hours can top out at 300km/h, but even this has revolutionized intercity travel in Italy, greatly increasing rail’s market share on key routes such as Milan-Rome and contributing to the recent demise of the national carrier Alitalia .
Following extensive testing over the past two years, Italian State Railways will take on French TGVs on the Milan-Paris route in 2022, with Frecciarossa trains offering an important alternative to aging TGVs.
Another batch of Frecciarossa trains is being delivered to Spain, where they will compete with AVE and Ouigo Spain services on high-speed routes from Madrid.
10. Haramain High Speed Railway – 300 km/h (Saudi Arabia)
Sweltering heat and dust storms don’t immediately seem like the ideal environment for sophisticated high-speed electric trains, but Saudi Arabia’s Haramain High-Speed Railway (HHR) links the holy cities of Mecca and Medina at speeds of up to 300 km/h
With 35 Talgo trains manufactured in Spain and specially modified to work in the desert at temperatures of up to 50°C, the 450-kilometre journey takes just two hours.
Each train has 13 coaches with capacity for 417 passengers in economy or business class and the HHR has a capacity of 60 million passengers per year. This capacity for agglomeration is put to the test during the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca during which more than two million Muslims visit the city’s holy sites. Since the opening of the HHR in 2018 it has become a popular way to travel between Medina and Mecca, which is hardly surprising when the equivalent road trip can take up to 10 hours.