Long journeys getting shorter with even faster trains

July 29, 2019
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We’re all about fast, frequent and reliable trains.

What do we mean when we say “fast?” New high-speed trains around the world continue to push that definition.

According to Railway Gazette’s latest World Speed Survey, the fastest scheduled train on the planet is on China’s Beijing to Shanghai line. This line opened in 2011 and was designed for 380 km/h (236 mph) operation, but was limited to 300 km/h (186 mph) until late 2017, when trains began to be allowed to reach peaks of 350 km/h (217 mph).

Trains G17 and G38 now cover the portion from Beijing to Nanjing—most of the way to Shanghai—at an average speed of 318 km/h (198 mph), which earns them the survey’s top spot.

Beijing to Shanghai is 1,302 km, or 908 miles, roughly the equivalent of Chicago to New York. China’s fastest trains make this journey in 4 hours and 18 minutes. (Compare that to more than 20 hours on Amtrak.) That’s a trip time that’s very competitive with flying, when including the standard air travel time-wasters. More importantly, the high-speed train has a much lower carbon footprint than flying.

The fastest scheduled train on the planet is on China’s Beijing to Shanghai line, a journey about as long as Chicago to New York. Chinese high-speed trains carried more than 2 billion passengers in 2018. (This photo and the one above show Hongqiao, one of Shanghai's four major stations.)

Keep that in mind next time someone tries to tell you that America is too spread-out for high-speed trains. (If they’re still not convinced, remind them China even runs one daily train between Beijing and Hong Kong—think Chicago to Miami—in only nine hours.)

As high-speed rail becomes more common around the world, the list of fastest trains is no longer composed of only the usual suspects in Europe and Asia. Morocco’s new high-speed line places the country at number eight in the list by nations, just behind Germany and ahead of South Korea.

Hourly trains cover the new 194 km (121 mi) line from Tangier to Kenitra in only 50 minutes for an average speed of 233 km/h (145 mph). (From Kenitra, trains continue to Casablanca on conventional tracks while the rest of the high-speed line is planned and built.) We should be able to travel from Chicago to Champaign-Urbana just as fast and frequently.

There are now 22 countries where trains regularly travel at average speeds above 160 km/h (100 mph). As peak speeds of 350 km/h and average speeds exceeding 300 km/h become the new gold standard, high-speed rail becomes the right choice for more and longer trips.

It’s time to get serious about bringing the comfort, convenience, and carbon-sensibility of high-speed rail to the Midwest and the United States. Will you help us expand our reach beyond the Midwest, and bring more fast, frequent and reliable trains around the country?

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