Train: AVE Class 103
Speed: 251 mph
Capacity: 404 passengers
Spain has the longest high-speed rail network in Europe, with 3,433 miles of tracks. With six high-speed train lines and several under construction, the Spanish government aims to have 90 percent of its population within 31 miles of a high-speed station by 2020.
The country’s fastest trains are the AVE series, which is manufactured by several train makers, including Siemens, Alstom and Bombardier. The Siemens-made AVE Class 103 train began commercial service in 2007, and hit a record speed of 251 mph during a test run between Madrid and Zaragoza. The maximum top speed for commercial trains in Spain is limited to 186 mph for passenger safety.
The euro-zone debt crisis and Portugal’s austerity plan have halted a major expansion plan, which would have linked Spain’s capital Madrid with Lisbon in Portugal. The high-speed train link would have cut travel time between the two cities to two hours and 45 minutes instead of the current nine hours.
Train: Transrapid TR-07
Speed: 270.3 mph
Germany is a nation that has been at the forefront of high-speed rail technology. It’s home to Siemens, the world’s largest manufacturer of high-speed trains.
German companies Siemens and ThyssenKrupp have developed the Transrapid system, high-speed monorail trains operating on magnetic levitation (Maglev) technology, that can reach speeds of 311 mph. In 2004, the Shanghai Maglev train in China was the first commercial Transrapid train to carry passengers, hitting speeds of 267 mph.
Although the magnetic levitation trains are developed in Germany, they have never been used commercially in the country. The technology has faced several setbacks, including high costs and a crash that killed 25 people during a test run in 2006. Instead, the InterCityExpress (ICE) system has been adopted nationwide since 1991. These high-speed trains hit speeds of 199 mph and connect German cities with cities in Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands.
An ICE train disaster near the German village of Eschede in 1998 is considered the world’s deadliest high-speed rail accident, leading to the deaths of 101 people.
Speed: 302 mph
Capacity: 600 passengers
China has the world’s longest high-speed rail network with more than 6,000 miles of routes in service.
It also boasts the longest high-speed rail route, with the opening of its Beijing-Shanghai line earlier this month. The 819-mile route was made using 60 million cubic meters of concrete, twice the amount used in the Three Gorges Dam. While the CRH380AL trains operate at a speed of 186 mph, the train hit a record speed of 302 mph in a test run.
China’s first high-speed line, which opened in 2007, saw 40.6 million passengers travel on it in just the first two years. The government hopes to stretch China’s rapidly growing high-speed network to 28,000 miles by the end of 2015.
Train: TGV V150
Speed: 357 mph
France sped ahead of the rest of Europe in the race to build the first fully functioning high-speed rail network.
The first Alstom developed TGV trains hit the tracks in 1981, with service between Paris and Lyon. Since then, the network has expanded to service 150 destinations within France and neighboring countries. Limited to a speed of up to 200 mph during normal service, the experimental TGV V150 hit a record speed of 357 mph in 2007—making it the second fastest train in the world. TGV’s high-speed technology is used in national trains in many European countries including the U.K., Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany.
Last month, French train maker Alstom signed a preliminary deal to build a high-speed rail line in Iraq linking the cities of Baghdad and Basra.
Train: JR-Maglev MLX01
Speed: 361 mph
Japan is the world leader when it comes to high-speed trains, opening the world’s first modern high-speed rail in 1964.
The Japanese first made a breakthrough in the field when they introduced the first series of the Tokaido Shinkansen “bullet trains,” which could reach a top speed of 130 mph. The early bullet trains carried more than 100 million passengers in just the first three years. Today, the trains are still operating on the world’s busiest rail line, carrying 378,000 passengers a day.
Maglev trains have also been developed in Japan since the 1970s. The government has approved plans for a $112.4 billion project to build a Maglev train line between Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka, with a completion date of 2027. These planned high-speed trains are expected to cut the current travel time between Tokyo and Osaka from two hours and 18 minutes on the Shinkansen to just over an hour.
Currently, the experimental JR-Maglev MLXO1 is considered the world’s fastest train, with a top speed of 361 mph in a test run in 2003.