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. However, today's passenger 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!