Magnetic levitation leads the way as train speeds top 500kph

In today’s age, plans for high-speed railway systems are speeding up.

In August, Elon Musk, the US billionaire entrepreneur and founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, unveiled a plan to whisk passengers and cars between Los Angeles and San Francisco in about 35 minutes, faster than the speed of sound.

The Hyperloop is not the only project gaining momentum. National railway companies and private operators across the globe are in a race to develop trains that transport passengers at record speeds.

The MLX01 (X meaning experimental) is one of the latest designs of a series of Maglev trains, which travel using magnetic levitation technology, in development in Japan since the 1970s. In December 2003, a three-car train reached a maximum speed of 581kph,m although operating speeds would be significantly lower.

Meanwhile, China, Spain, Italy and Germany are boosting the efficiency of their current high-speed rail networks, and the United Kingdom, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have grand plans for new or improved high-speed rail in the near future.

Saudi Arabia’s train system, slated for completion next year, will have an operating speed of 320kph. The railway is expected to transport three million passengers each year and help relieve traffic congestion on the roads. The 77km journey between Jeddah and Mecca is predicted to take less than 30 minutes, and the 400km route from Jeddah to Medina will take approximately two hours.

In the United States, the Acela Express remains the only high-speed rail service in operation but projects such as the California High-Speed Rail, XpressWest between Los Angeles and Las Vegas and a high-speed line connecting Chicago and St Louis are all in the planning stages.

Mr Musk’s Hyperloop plan provides a glimpse into the potential future of supersonic rail travel and provides a backdrop against which we can look at where our high-speed rail services stand today.

Here is a look at the current five fastest trains in the world.

1. China’s Shanghai Maglev Train

Launched in 2003, the Shanghai Maglev Train currently takes the helm as the world’s fastest train service, clocking in an operating speed of 430kph. Its record speed is 500.5kmh. The trains zooms along a 30km stretch, from Pudong International Airport to the Longyang Road Station of the Shangai metro system.

2. China’s CRH380

Unveiled in 2010 by China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Corporation, the CRH380 has since expanded to include 9,330km of train track carrying half a billion passengers each year. The trains’ operating speed is a decidedly brisk 349kph, with a record speed of 487kph. This rail service operates on four routes transporting passengers between Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Nanjing and Hangzhou.

3. Germany’s ICE3

The InterCity Express (ICE3), unveiled in 2000 as a lighter and higher-powered train than its predecessors, runs between Frankfurt and Cologne in the Rhine Valley and Munich and Nuremberg in Bavaria at an operating speed of 320kph. The railroad system currently has nine more high-speed lines under construction or in the development stages.

4. Japan’s Shinkansen E5

These trains, nicknamed “Duck-Billed Platypus” due to their distinctive nose, are also referred to as Japan’s bullet trains. These trains, which travel on a 674km route between Tokyo and Aomori at the northern end of Honshu Island, have an operating speed of 320kph. The railroad system’s record speed tops 358kph. In September, testing began on the Chuo Shinkansen Maglev, a US$90 billion project, which will be able to reach about 500kph.

5. France’s TGV POS

Launched in 2008, these trains also operate at 320kph, with a record speed of 574kph, which set the bar for the world’s fastest speed for travel on conventional rails in 2007. The system operates on the LGV Rhin-Rhône line in eastern France, as well as the LGV Est between Paris and Strasbourg. There are reportedly more routes in the works.

Following on the tail of these fastest trains are Spain’s AVE Series 103, South Korea’s Sancheon and Italy’s ETR 500 Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) and ETR 575 AGV trains – which have operating speeds of about 300kph.

The Eurostar Class 373 in Britain, France and Belgium, as well as the THSR 700T in Taiwan also share operate at about that speed.


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