• Associate Sponsor

Tracks leading to bullet train: How countries around the world raced to get their fastest trains

While European countries like Germany and Italy had been researching and experimenting on high speed rail network since as early as the beginning of the twentieth century, it was Japan which made the breakthrough in this race for the fastest rail technology.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | Updated: September 14, 2017 7:46 pm
bullet train, bullet train India, Narendra Modi, Shinzo Abe, high speed train in India, Narendra Modi bullet train, Shinzo Abe bullet train, Japan bullet train, bullet train news, Indian Express On Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, inaugurated the first high speed rail service in India, or what is popularly called the bullet train

The quest for the fastest possible rail network had been on the agenda of countries across the world throughout the twentieth century. The concept of high speed train is used to designate any railway system that has a speed above 250 kph. While European countries like Germany and Italy had been researching and experimenting on high speed rail network since as early as the beginning of the twentieth century, it was Japan which made the breakthrough in this race for the fastest rail technology.

Japan’s headway in high speed rail technology was soon followed by France, Germany, Spain United Kingdom, United States, China, Italy, Korea and Taiwan. “This transformation of ground transportation infrastructure has become the symbol of modernity in many countries, and, from the financial perspective, high speed rail lines have become the most important projects in those countries where this innovation has been implemented,” write economists Daniel Albalate and Germa Bel in their work on the economics and politics of high speed railways.

While the government of these countries have often justified the technology in terms of commercial gains to be made and environmental benefits, they have also come under criticism regarding the economic and social burden the fast train projects might lead to. Whatever be the highs and lows of high speed rail technology, its association with modernity has made the idea of ‘fast trains’ a near necessity for any country desiring to be labeled as ‘developed’.

On Thursday, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, inaugurated the first high speed rail service in India, or what is popularly called the bullet train, the Indian rail industry took a leap in the direction of modern locomotives. Here is a look at few other countries who have been ahead in this race.

Japan

In the period following the end of the Second World War, Japan made several astounding economic gains as it benefited from Cold War politics. A product of this economic boom and the necessity of the post-war demographic situation in Japan led the country to discover high speed locomotive technology. Subsequently, the country made a breakthrough in high speed railways in 1964 with the Shinkansen or the bullet train network. At its inception, the network extended from Tokyo to Osaka. Over time it has extended to cover 2,764.6 km, linking most of the major cities in the country.

bullet train, bullet train India, Narendra Modi, Shinzo Abe, high speed train in India, Narendra Modi bullet train, Shinzo Abe bullet train, Japan bullet train, bullet train news, Indian Express Japan made a breakthrough in high speed railways in 1964 with the Shinkansen or the bullet train network. (Wikimedia Commons)

The bullet train technology inaugurated by India and Japan in Ahmedabad on Thursday rests on the same technology that made Japan the first country to successfully introduce high speed railways.

United Kingdom

On January 10, 2012, the Secretary of Transportation of the British government announced the building of a high-speed railway line between London and Birmingham, with an extension to Manchester and Leeds. Despite criticism against the project regarding the high costs it would accrue, the British government maintained that the benefits to be gained from the rail network would be much higher than the costs. The project has come under strong criticism from organisations like the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute. The media too has been critical of the project. In 2011 an article on the high speed rail project published in the weekly publication, The Economist, came out with the title “The great train robbery”.

bullet train, bullet train India, Narendra Modi, Shinzo Abe, high speed train in India, Narendra Modi bullet train, Shinzo Abe bullet train, Japan bullet train, bullet train news, Indian Express On January 10, 2012, the Secretary of Transportation of the British government announced the building of a high-speed railway line between London and Birmingham, with an extension to Manchester and Leeds. (Wikimedia Commons)

The British government, however, had been consistent in their confidence on the project. A report on the rail network presented by the government to the Parliament stated that “the Government believes strongly that the time has come to act with the same boldness as our Victorian predecessors”.

United States

While research and tests for high speed rail in the United States had been ongoing since the early decades of the 20th century, one of the first substantial projects date back to the High Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965. Despite being one of the first countries to introduce high speed rail networks, it could barely spread with the same agility. A more recent development in the process has been the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act in 1991. The Act mandated the Federal Railroad Administration to identify five corridors for high speed rail network. Over time the number of such corridors identified have increased.

bullet train, bullet train India, Narendra Modi, Shinzo Abe, high speed train in India, Narendra Modi bullet train, Shinzo Abe bullet train, Japan bullet train, bullet train news, Indian Express While research and tests for high speed rail in the United States had been ongoing since the early decades of the 20th century, one of the first substantial projects date back to the High Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965. (Wikimedia Commons)

In April 2009, the Obama administration presented a blueprint for a national network of high speed passenger rail lines. “The purpose of the plan, as the president stated is to reduce traffic congestion, cut dependence on foreign oil, and foster livable urban and rural communities,” wrote Albalate and Bel. While the cost of the network has come under heavy criticism, a major point in support of the railways made by the government is that of environmental benefits to be made, particularly those related to energy efficiency and cutting down of air pollution.

European Union

The first high speed rail line arrived in Europe in 1981 with the Train Grande Vitesse line between Paris and Lyon. The process of opening high speed rails in Europe accelerated in the late 1980s with lines opening in Germany and Spain and later in Italy. The development of high speed rail network in European countries depended on a variety of factors including the specific socio-economic and territorial needs of the states, the condition of the rail companies and the strategies adopted by the individual governments.

bullet train, bullet train India, Narendra Modi, Shinzo Abe, high speed train in India, Narendra Modi bullet train, Shinzo Abe bullet train, Japan bullet train, bullet train news, Indian Express The first high speed rail line arrived in Europe in 1981 with the Train Grande Vitesse line between Paris and Lyon. (Wikimedia Commons)

While high speed rail network developed at a fast pace in almost all European countries, the French and the German models gained an upper hand over all others. Developed in the 1980s and 90s, the two models became a source of inspiration for most other European countries who wished to develop fast trains strategy, this was particularly the case for Italy and Spain.

In the early 1990s, the European Union launched an ambitious plan for an integrated European high-speed network. One of the first steps taken by the Union in the process of railway reorganisation was the liberalisation of the rail economy. As of 1994, nine projects were selected for building high speed rail lines. With the enlargement of the European Union, however, the number of projects also increased over time.

For all the latest Research News, download Indian Express App

  1. B
    Bhavadas T
    Sep 16, 2017 at 3:46 pm
    We are happy if we get trains with average speed of 150 kms/ hour. Now the average speed of some of the trains running between Mumbai and Trivandrum are only 50-55kms. This is in spite of the fact that Mangalore to TRivandrum line has been doubled and electrified. If the current average speed is doubled, that will be a blessing to us.
    (0)(0)
    Reply
    1. Guptan Veemboor
      Sep 15, 2017 at 7:06 pm
      Why does a common man need to go at jet speed from one place to other? Even at the speed available now, it is mostly not for any real purpose. Many people will take leave and travel some five hundred or thousand kilometres to attend the marriage of friend's sister or brother, It is ten to one the fellow has not even seen the one who is getting married. At the marriage venue, the friend would have hardly any time even to thank him for attending the marriage. I just told this to demonstrate that we Indians travel for real purposes and frivolous ones. I am sure if one calculates the number of passengers per thousands of the people in India we will have the highest number. Such people do not deserve such speedy transport system. And the few business men who need really to get somewhere in a jiffy can do it by air.
      (0)(0)
      Reply
      1. C
        CharlesWilliamMorganJr
        Sep 15, 2017 at 6:33 pm
        The high speed rail route being built in Modi's home area will be of great benefit to the people there. Now we need to look at the entire nation and plan system of high speed routes that will cover every metropolitan area of over 500,000. A new line should be placed under construction quarterly until this is accomplished. Of crucial importance is connecting India and China, where over 38 of the world population is located. A high speed, precision, heavy-duty, continuous-weld-rail, double-track line needs to be built immediately between Delhi and Beijing. It would quickly become the heaviest traveled rail line in the world, providing employment for millions, and making travel, tourism, trade, and transit comfortable, convenient, safe, fast, non-polluting, inexpensive and dependable.
        (1)(0)
        Reply
        1. S
          Sayed
          Sep 15, 2017 at 10:56 am
          First of all it is very costly and it's cost cannot be reimbursed in just these many years. Moreover, now the world is going for Hyperloop technology, that is more than twice speedy than this one at half of it's cost. It seems Japan is dumping it's garbage in India and India is buying it happily. This is why we call BJP as incompetent and corporate friendly, not common man friendly. We can see by rising petrol prices. Kick this party out as it seems to be most corrupt one.
          (1)(4)
          Reply
          1. S
            S Subramanian
            Sep 16, 2017 at 11:26 am
            'the world is going for Hyperloop technology, that is more than twice speedy than this one at half of its cost. ' - a very important point to be taken note of by our planners and Government.
            (0)(0)
            Reply
          2. S
            Sridharan Kumaraswamy
            Sep 15, 2017 at 5:52 am
            First let us target a speed of 100 Kmph without accidents.Then we can go for bullet trains.Still there are many sectors where trains run at 40 Kmph.
            (3)(1)
            Reply
            1. M
              mark
              Sep 15, 2017 at 10:04 am
              Your objection is valid, when France ran its first TGV line" traditional" trains were already running at 180 kmh on the same line. The cost of infrastructure is heavy, to run at 300km you need special lines (almost straight, minimum of curves) to the most exacting standards. For practical purposes, train run at such speed only on those specially built part of the network. But it's a major alternative to air transport, straight from the heart of a city to another. Since years Germany is pushing to forbid all air traffic under 1hr flight in Europe, but mind that France, Germany and Italy are far from their original targets due too ever-increasing infrastructure cost. In the present case, at least Japanese technology is well proven, but what will be done with it? Absent from the article is China that has by now a sizeable network (I saw some years back line building, not encouraging), but mention UK and US where no such trains exist.
              (3)(0)
              Reply
            2. Load More Comments