Which countries are catching up to high-speed rail?
Bullet trains have been shooting through many cities and across country borders for decades now, ever since the first shinkansen transformed Japan’s commute in 1964.5 Nowadays, many high-speed trains boast speeds of up to around 320km/h (198.83mph).
With higher-speed rail technologies being tested, it’s interesting to see which countries are really pushing towards making such transport a daily reality.
China, home to the fastest ‘maglev’ train in the world at 430km/h (267.19mph), has tested a new maglev train prototype to hit records of 600km/h (372.82mph).6 These maglev trains use magnet repulsion to levitate the train from the ground, helping reduce friction and propel the train forward.
Virgin is also busy developing and testing the Hyperloop One; this train, which also uses magnetic levitation as well as a low-pressure tube, is said to one day carry passengers at almost 1,126km/h (699.66mph).7
But, what about some of the countries that aren’t yet reaping the benefits of bullet trains that are already gracing railway lines globally? What are their plans to better connect their cities, or their neighbouring countries?
It’s the collective sigh of many on their daily commute: ‘When will America and Canada get high-speed rail?’
While there is, at the time of writing, no train in America that boasts bullet-train speeds, there are moves towards faster travel in at least some parts of the country.
For example, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDT) is researching into ways it can implement ultra-high-speed ground transportation from Vancouver, British Columbia to Portland, Oregon.8
The WSDT defines ‘ultra-high-speed’ as a train operating at a maximum speed of over 402.33km/h (250mph). The following technologies could help this train come to fruition:
• high-speed rail (steel wheel)
• maglev (magnetic levitation)
• Virgin’s Hyperloop One’s infrastructure.9
Aside from high-speed travel offering quicker commute times (less than an hour between each city), findings in the study estimate it could bring around US$355 billion in economic growth. The study also found that such transport could whittle down CO2 emissions by six million metric tons over the first 40 years of operation.
America’s appetite for faster rail services is also constantly whetted, given Virgin’s Hyperloop One Test Site is in the Nevada Desert. What’s more, a few cities in the country are exposed to the Hyperloop’s potential benefits during its numerous roadshows.10 Such technology stands stark against a landscape of long commute hours within – and between – some of America’s most populated cities.
Australia: Closer to faster than fastest
Over the years, particularly since the early 1980s,11 Australia has toyed with the idea of implementing high-speed rail services – and it has been met with its fair share of scrutiny.
Enter the National Faster Rail Agency
Established on 1 July 2019, the National Faster Rail Agency supports and investigates opportunities for faster rail connections between major capital cities and their regional towns. This includes a commitment to a faster rail service between Melbourne and Geelong.
Two billion dollars are being poured into the latter to make it a reality under the Morrison Government. This rail service is said to cut the 80km (49.7-mile) journey between Geelong and Melbourne in half – to around 30 minutes. This is thanks to its proposed speed, which is an average 160km/h (99.41mph).12
Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge said faster rail was critical for Australia’s future population.13
‘Faster rail networks are crucial to easing congestion pressure in our cities and shaping Australia’s future as our population grows,’ Mr Tudge said.
Mr Tudge also explained that faster rail would help create jobs and give more time back to commuters, who could live more regionally and work in city-centres.
Is high-speed travel kinder to Mother Nature?
Sure, shorter travel times are the dream for holidaymakers and workers alike! But does current high-speed travel keep our plans on track for a healthier future?
Eurostar, the high-speed rail service connecting the UK to mainland Europe, touts the environmental benefits of high-speed rail compared to air travel.
Specifically, the company says a high-speed rail journey from London to Amsterdam emits 80% less carbon per passenger than an equivalent flight.14
Eurostar also says that since their service began from London to Amsterdam, 16,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions have been cut from passengers opting for high-speed rail instead of catching a flight.
And when it comes to the advances for faster high-speed rail, the environment is never far from front-of-mind.
According to a 2019 press release,15 the Virgin Hyperloop is set to be five to 10 times more energy-efficient than an aeroplane. It’s also set to use less energy than other high-speed rail while moving much faster.
The United Kingdom Government released a 2019 report outlining how many carbon emissions each mode of transport emits per passenger per kilometre.16 Notably, international rail, which covers high-speed rail like Eurostar, possesses the smallest carbon footprint: