If you want to ride some of the fastest trains in the world, you’ll need to head to countries like France, Japan, Germany, South Korea, Spain, and China. While the locomotive is credited for helping to build the United States, as the country expanded west in the 1800s, our fastest rail service currently – Amtrak’s Acela Express – is downright pokey when you compare it to the trains of Europe and Asia.
Acela highlights some of the deficiencies in the country’s rail infrastructure. Although it can travel up to 150 miles per hour, Acela relies on existing tracks that limits it top speed to only a handful of areas along its route, and it shares portions tracks with commuter trains and freight trains.
With air travel more congested than ever, however, especially along heavily traveled routes like within the Northeast and between San Francisco and Los Angeles, rail is looked to again as an alternative. Federal funding has been allocated to new high-speed rail initiatives: Amtrak is exploring ways to bring faster trains to the Northeast Corridor, while California’s high-speed rail development is the furthest along. Unfortunately, many of these costly new plans are still on the drawing board, and we’d be lucky if we get to ride a high-speed train stateside by the next decade.
So in the meantime, if you want to travel at ground speeds of up to 300 mph, you’ll need to book a ticket with one of these train services outside the U.S.
Shanghai Maglev, China
The Shanghai Maglev train blows all the other trains away when it comes to speed. It uses Maglev technology to propel the train by using magnets, and it’s one of the few trains on Earth to use it. While the train usually operates at a slower average speed of 139 mph, it can travel as fast as 268 mph during certain times of the day – and can be operated even faster. The route isn’t very long – it connects Shanghai Pudong International Airport with the city – but it takes less than 8 minutes for the 19-mile journey.
E5/6 Series Shinkansen Bullet Train, Japan
No country is as synonymous with high-speed trains than Japan. Bearing the “bullet train” nickname, Japan’s Shinkansen are some of the world’s fastest. The E5 and E6, in particular, built by Hitachi and Kawasaki, have operational speeds of almost 200 mph, making them the fastest trains in Japan.
Talgo 350 Very High Speed Train, Spain
Connecting major cities in Spain, the Talgo 350’s duck-like engine pulls its passengers at 186 mph, although it can operate as fast as 205 mph. (The train’s record is 227 mph). An even faster train being developed for Spain by Talgo, called the Avril, reaches 236 mph.
Velaro E High Speed Train, Spain
Spain lays claim to another high-speed train, the Velaro E. Made by Siemens, the Velaro E travels between Barcelona and Madrid. It travels at 192 mph normally, but it has gone as fast as 250 mph. Siemens makes or designs other Velaro-series trains used in China, Germany, and Russia, and the Eurostar that connects England with France.
Italo High Speed Train, Italy
The AGV Italo from maker Alstom is designed to reach speeds up to 224 mph, but it generally rides along at 186 mph between Naples and Milan. Should it ever need to, the train has gone as fast as 357 mph.
Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV), France
France makes it easy for tourists to visit different parts of the country, thanks to its TGV high-speed trains made by Alstom. The POS’s operation speed reaches 199 mph – the max it was designed for – but its record is 357 mph.
Harmony CRH 380A Bullet Train, China
At 236 mph, the Harmony CRH380A is the second-fastest train operating in the world (average speeds are normally less, but it’s still faster than what Americans are used to), although the China Railway Corp. has run it as fast as 300 mph. With the need to service more than a billion people, high-speed trains are a vital form of transportation.