For Americans, bullet-trains are an anomaly. They’re common in the western-world, awesome, and hi-tech. However, unless an American has traveled overseas, they’ve likely never seen one, let alone experienced the thrill of riding via high-speed rail. Below, are listed a number of these high-speed rail services, as well as a few actual bullet trains that have warranted themselves a place in history.
The very first bullet-train in the world was not built by the French, nor the Japanese. It was built by the Italians. The project began in 1934 and used the latest technologies. The train cars themselves were developed with a wind tunnel to maximize aerodynamics. The train, which entered service in 1937, was electric and could reach a top speed of 80mph. It was designed to handle speeds of almost 109mph, but the pantographs (the devices that connect the train to its power lines) could not handle the higher speeds. In its time, the ETR 200 was also considered the most comfortable train in the world. It acquired the world mean speed record in 1939.
While the ETR 200 is the world’s first bullet train, one could say that the Tokaido Shinkanzen is the world’s first contemporary bullet train. The project began construction in 1959 and opened in 1964. When service began, the trains would travel at 130 mph, but that number jumped to 135mph only a short time later. The route runs between Tokyo and Shin-Okaka. Today, this bullet train holds the record as the most heavily traveled high-speed rail route in the world. It should also be noted that the term “bullet train” itself comes from a literal translation of the Japanese phrase “dangan ressha” which has been the nickname for these trains since they were originally suggested all the way backing the 1930’s.
The fastest bullet-train service now operating on the Shinkansen high-speed rail network is the Nozomi. The trains, which commenced service in 1992, reach a speed of 186mph. Nozomi trains also make fewer stops, which adds to their overall travel speed. Over its history, the Nozomi Shinkansen has actually used 3 different series of trains, the 500, 700, and the newest N700 series. It is predicted that by 2011 the service will exclusively use N700 series trains, which happen to be the fastest.
Beijing–Tianjin Intercity Rail
If you’re looking to ride the bullet train with the fastest operating speed in the world, this is it. The Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Rail currently runs at a speed of 217 mph. The train is actually capableof operating at 245 mph, but the Chinese slow it down for safer normal operation. The rail commenced service in late 2008 just in time for the Beijing Olympics. A number of events for those Olympics were also held in Tianjin, making the brand new bullet train quite a convenience.
The “Train a Grande Vitesse” is France’s high-speed rail service. The trains’ start to stop average speed of just over 173 mph is the current world record. Development took place during the 1970’s and service began in 1981. The French bullet trains proved so popular that the network was expanded and then emulated by several other countries in Europe including Germany, Belgium, and Spain. The French themselves, however, had been inspired by the Japanese. Today, the TGV is the second most popular bullet train service in the world. The most popular being the Shinkansen in Japan.
This is it. The fastest conventional train in the world. Unfortunately you won’t be able to ride it. The V150 was a specially modified TGV train put together specifically for the purpose of conducting tests and breaking the world record. In April of 2007 it reached a speed of 357 mph.
As it all started in Italy, bullet trains are finally making their triumphant return to their homeland. The Treno Alta Velocita SpA is an entity created for the development and construction of Italy’s new high-speed rail network. The operations of this new high speed rail network will be brought to match European rail standards. The network will also connect with neighboring high speed rails such as the ones in Germany, and France. Construction is currently underway with new segments opening throughout the next several years.
This could be the future. The JR-Maglev is Japan’s experimental magnetic levitation train system. The project has been in development since the 1970’s, so there is no telling when the trains may actually be put into general operation. As the name suggests, unlike conventional trains, which run on wheels, the bullet trains of the JR-Maglev system hover on a frictionless magnetic field. Suffice to say, the trains are fast. How fast? They’re the current world record holder for the fastest non-conventional train. In 2003, one of these trains reached a speed of 361 mph.
United States Air Force Rocket Sled
Sure they’re not a train, but when you’re talking about “high-speed rail”, you simply have to mention rocket sleds. Why? Because of their sheer speed. The world land speed record is currently held by a rocket sled. It’s top speed? Mach 3? No. Try Mach 8.5. That’s 6,416 mph, or almost 107 miles every minute. This was achieved by a four stage rocket attached to a sled on a set of rails at Holloman Air Force Base on April 30, 2003. Obviously this particular rocket sled was unmanned. The fastest manned rocket sled ever launched reached 635 mph, which is still quite fast.
Plans have been underway for quite some time for a bullet train in America. If the funds can be found, it looks like there may finally be one built in California. Until that train becomes a reality though, Americans will just have to travel to Europe or Asia to experience one of the best methods of travel in the world.
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