Need to get somewhere in a hurry? If you’re going to a friend’s house, the answer might be to ride your bicycle. But what if you need to get somewhere several hundred miles away?

If you need to travel a long distance quickly, you probably think first of an airplane. Today, though, it may be a good idea to think about trains, too.

Trains? Really? If you’ve ever been stuck at a railroad crossing, waiting for a slow-moving cargo train to pass by, you may not think of trains as a quick way to get from one place to another.

Today’s trains can be a comfortable way to travel long distances quickly. Some train routes may get you from one major city to another major city just as quickly as an airplane could. Taking the train may also be cheaper, too.

People who live in big cities with subway systems already know that trains can be an economical, convenient and quick way to get around a major metropolitan area. Today’s modern aboveground trains can also be the best way to get to other nearby major cities without driving or flying.

The country leading the way in developing faster and faster trains is China. China has long been a pioneer in the field of high-speed rail. Given China’s large population, high-speed rail allows workers to travel to and from large cities quickly.

In the United States, Amtrak’s Acela Express can reach a top speed of 150 miles per hour, which makes it the fastest train in the United States. Because of frequent stops and aging, curved track in many places, the average speed on a trip from New York to Washington, D.C., is approximately 80 miles per hour.

In other parts of the world, though, high-speed rail passenger trains — sometimes called “bullet trains” because of their high speeds — can reach much faster speeds. For example, trains in China, Japan, Italy and Germany regularly approach 185 miles per hour. Trains in France and Spain may reach 200 miles per hour.

Many of these trains can go faster because they were designed using newer technology and run on rails that have few curves. Some of the fastest trains in the world — called Maglev trains — use a special technology known as magnetic levitation. These trains use magnetic fields to levitate them above special tracks that propel them along quickly.

While passenger trains generally have to operate at less than top speed capacity for safety reasons, many trains have reached incredible speeds in test runs. For example, the V150 train set a world record for conventional high-speed rail at a blistering 357.2 miles per hour. Japan’s MLX01 set the world speed record for a Maglev train at 361 miles per hour.

Soon, though, these test run speeds may be the norm for passenger trains. China’s CSR Corp. recently tested a new passenger train that can reach a top speed of 311 miles per hour. Compared to traveling in a car on the interstate at 70 miles per hour, you can see how a trip on a bullet train could be much quicker!

54 Join the Discussion

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    • Hey there, Jose G! Thanks for sharing your comment with us today– we think it’s SUPER cool to Wonder about speedy transportation, like bullet trains! We can’t wait to Wonder with you tomorrow… great guess! :)

  1. I don’t like all fast rides but i would love to be on that train! It looked like it was as fast as space mountain in Disney World! I think tomorrow’s wonder it about the ocean, surfers, or a basketball/football game because people there do the wave!

    • We like your enthusiasm and sense of adventure, Grace! We think it’s super cool you are willing to try out the fastest train even though you’re not a fan of fast rides! Way to go! We love your guesses for tomorrow’s Wonder… we can’t wait to see you tomorrow! :)

  2. Dear Wonderopolis,
    I enjoyed today’s wonder about bullet trains. I never knew that China has been a rail country for a long time. I always travel to Reading, Massachusetts over the summer. During the trip we sometimes go to downtown Boston. We use the subway to get from one place to another. I predict that tomorrow’s wonder will be about whales. :)

    • Wow, that sounds like a very COOL trip, Kate B.! Thank you for sharing your travel experience with us– you used another type of public transportation (the subway) that helps us get around quicker than walking or sometimes, driving! We can’t wait to Wonder with you tomorrow, Wonder Friend! :)

      Check out this past Wonder… we bet you’re going to like it!
      Wonder #377– Do You Need Water to Make Waves? http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/do-you-need-water-to-make-waves/ :)

  3. I really like trains, even the small, moving trains that really go on the tracks will moving itself. I have one of those, but not the ones you expect, it’s the little kids trains. I still have them, and I sometimes play with them. :)

    • Hey there Carlos, we LOVE that you have your own set of smaller trains to tinker with– so COOL! It’s like having your own train station right at home! :)

  4. This was a very interesting wonder. I really like to read the new wonders everyday with my class. It was fun to learn about fast trains. I hope I can ride a train sometime.

    • Hi there, Iman & Malek, we’re so glad you’re here WONDERing with us today! We love to hear that you’re WONDERing with your classmates at school– it makes us so happy to know that! Thank you for sharing your comment about the bullet train today– we hope you can experience it in person sometime soon! :)

  5. I learned some new things: that trains are very economical, cheaper than flying, very very fast and nice. I wonder why trains are usally so loud. And I wonder if some trains have restaurants on them? Can’t wait to wonder again tomorrow.

    • Hi there, Jules, we are so glad you commented today! We love the points you listed about today’s Wonder– it makes sense why the trains and railroads are still a major mode of transportation all over the world! We bet you could do some more research about the meal cars that are on some long distance trains! We will see you tomorrow, Wonder Friend! :)

  6. Hi wonderopolis what is the fastest train in your town? I like your business because I like trains that’s all for today bye wonderopolis!

    • Hi there, Isaiah, we’re glad you’re WONDERing with us today! We’re not certain how fast the train in Wonderopolis moves, but it is certainly faster than traveling by bike or car! We Wonder if you’ve traveled anywhere by train? We hope you have a SUPER day and we will see you soon! We love your enthusiasm for trains, Isaiah! :)

    • WOW, we love your enthusiasm, Leonte! Great job WONDERing about speedy trains– we love learning about them, too! We are so glad you commented today– we look forward to seeing you at Wonderopolis soon! :)

    • Great Wonder, Cadence! We Wonder if you’ve ever been on a train before? We bet the technology on newer trains create a smooth ride! Thanks for sharing your comment with us today! :)

    • Great Wonder, Titan! We bet the brakes in the train are extra strong in order to put a stop to a train that fast and large! :)

    • We Wonder if you’ve been doing some research of your own about hover trains, Ethan! They sound pretty cool! The newest versions of trains have been engineered with lots of great technology, which can help trains reach high speeds! Speaking of technology, you might enjoy this Wonder, too! Thanks for sharing your comment today! :)

      Wonder #710– How Does Technology Change Lives? http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/how-does-technology-change-lives/ :)

    • Thanks so much, Dese, we are oh-so-glad you’re here today! We Wonder if you learned anything cool and new about trains today? :)

  7. This train in the video is very old. They are about 270km per hour but new bullet train is more than 300km per hour! Series N700 and N700A and N700-7000 are the fastest trains in Japan.

    • Great question, Kalle! Maglev trains use magnets to make the train hover over the tracks (or levitate). This helps increase the speed of the train! :)

  8. I heard that the China built a train that can reach up to 300 MPH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • WOW, that’s AMAZING, rithik! Thanks for sharing this information with us! We are so glad that you’re WONDERing on your own– and that you shared this news with us! Thanks for being a great Wonder Friend! :)

  9. ~~~~~~~~~Happy New Year Wonderopolis!~~~~~~~~

    Bullet Train in Japan is going to speed up to 320km and 330km per hour this year or 2014. World’s train/monorail is getting very VERY fast!

    • Happy New Year to you, too, Kalle! We are so glad you shared this cool information with us about the speedy train in Japan! Thanks for filling us in! :)

    • Thanks for WONDERing with us, Kalle! We are so glad that you have shared all this information about speedy trains with us! HOORAY! We hope you’re having a WONDERful day… and perhaps you’ll Wonder about the slowest way to travel? :)

    • We’re glad you joined us for a Wonder that GOES, Leah! We are impressed with the speed of that train, too, and we hope you can check it out for yourself soon! Perhaps you’ll help design an even faster train when you grow up! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is the fastest train?
  • What country is leading the way in building fast trains?
  • Where is the fastest train in the United States?

Wonder Gallery

fast train_shutterstock_90375355Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Do you have a need for speed? Sure, going fast can be a blast. If you love roller coasters, you know how thrilling and wild a super-fast ride can be.

But is getting to your destination as quickly as possible always the goal? We think not! Sometimes the joy is in the journey itself, not the ultimate destination.

Riding on a bullet train would be fun, but we think you might miss a lot of things along the way. Take some time today to take a slow walk around your backyard, neighborhood or town. What things do you notice when you take your time and slowly stroll around the area?

You might be surprised by the things you notice if you just take the time. There are things you might easily miss if you hurry. So slow down and enjoy the journey! Keep your eyes open. You never know what you might see that makes the whole trip worthwhile!

Still Wondering

In Illuminations’ Button Trains lesson, children describe order by using vocabulary such as before, after and between.

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