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Life in the fast lane; ranking the world’s 20 high-speed trains.

Posted by SmartRail World Staff on Feb 25, 2016

For readers in the USA infuriated by the false starts of their domestic high-speed rail projects, or those in the UK already numbed by the ongoing debates over HS2 it can be easy to forget that 20 countries worldwide already have high-speed rail on their transport network.  It was in 1964 that Japan unveiled its first bullet train, the Shinkansen, which at the click of an ignition switch ushered in the era of modern high-speed rail and the position of Japan as a symbol of economic growth and innovation. Although it was not until the 1980s that high-speed rail became established in Europe. It’s a fascinating to see who and where high-speed rail is in operation around the world and our friends at GoEuro a search engine that combines air, rail, bus and car rental options across Europe in one handy click has ranked the world’s high-speed train networks plus drawn up a cool interactive map. And there are certainly a few surprises in there…

While it’s no surprise that Asian trains ranked first, second and third, for Japan, China and South Korea, respectively, our American readers may be suprised that five of the top 10 are European networks. High-speed rail networks in France, Spain, Germany, Italy and Austria are ranked 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th and 9th, respectively. Of the 20 countries in the world in which high-speed trains operate, the U.S. was ranked 19th, beating only Finland. It is perhaps ironic that the US and Russia, once vying with each other in competition during the Space Race, both have the lowest coverage of their high-speed rail networks, each with less than one percent.  


GoEuro’s study is the first to measure the total population coverage of high-speed train lines, that being the percentage of the population who have access to high-speed trains from their home city. Other considerations include the ratio of high-speed trains to regular trains, the average ticket price by distance traveled, and the maximum and daily operating speeds of the trains.

European Focus 

Looking at Europe in more detail, we can spot some pretty exciting developments. France plans to reach 4,500 km of dedicated high-speed tracks, which would increase high-speed coverage of their rail network to 15.20%. Spain plans to build more than 2,700 km of new high-speed tracks, subsequently achieving an estimated 37.68% of high-speed rail coverage. Germany will increase the coverage of its railway network by 50%, with the construction of some 790 km of new high-speed track. Italy plans to expand its network with another 346 km of high-speed tracks, meaning they will reach a coverage of nearly 10% throughout the entire network.

Naren Shaam, CEO and founder of GoEuro (@GoEuro) who put this data together for us said, “While the rail network once literally put cities on the map in the United States, trains have long since faded in Americans’ minds as a preferred way of travel, ceding to both the car and the plane.  Europe has stayed with the beloved train however and also has rediscovered buses, with new luxury coaches now winning market share from discount airlines.”

Digital Guide: Urban Rail and Metro - solutions for a changing industry.

Home to the world's oldest and most extensive rail network, the infrastructural changes associated with switching from normal to high-speed rail can prove particularly complex in Europe. The delays around HS2 are a perfect example of this. Similarly across the Atlantic, despite persistent interest and rumors involving California and the Eastern seaboard, the United States has yet to embrace high-speed train technology. But with an additional 19 countries currently are planning new high-speed rail projects, the pace of a high-speed revolutrion is picking up!  For more on the rankings and criteria of these rankings, click here.

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Read the Rail and Metro Innovation Guide 2017

Topics: Signalling, projects

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