OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895

4:00 P.M.

November 15, 2001

High Speed Trains of the World

Fawcett01.jpg (5433 bytes)

by William K. Fawcett

Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library


Japan pioneered the high-speed rail program in the early 1960s, and France and then Germany led the way in Europe.  The development of lightweight rolling stock has contributed to achieving scheduled speeds up to 186 mph, but the biggest improvements have been the construction of dedicated tracks with high radius curves.

Other countries, mainly in Europe, have elected to avoid the very high cost of new roadbeds by using tilt trains to increase speed (125 mph) on their existing, more curving roadbeds.

Where distances between population centers are about 500 miles or less, high-speed trains have shown that they can compete with airplanes.  Trip times are somewhat greater, but the cost is generally lower, so the traveler can decide the trade-off.

Intercity distances and railroad management are holding back high-speed development in the US.

Biography of Bill Fawcett

Born New Albany, Indiana,  1923

Graduated from New Albany High School

BS in Chemical Engineering from Purdue

MBA from Indiana

World War II service in Europe

Korean War service in the Pentagon

Acquired wife Marty and three daughters along the way

Retired from Lockheed Corporation

In the 1950’s the general feeling was that railway passenger service was destined to go the way of the dinosaur.  For 50 years the United States has proved that the prediction was not far off. Those outlooks were based on the assumption that railway transportation could not achieve an average scheduled speed greater than 100 miles per hour.  If that were true, the railway would never be capable of competing with airlines except for short trips.   Airplanes were already many times faster than trains, and the era of the jet was still on the horizon.   True, the airplane’s speed advantage is offset somewhat by the travel times to and from airports, the required pre-boarding arrival time and the normal baggage delay at the other end.   The other competitor, the automobile, was as fast or faster than trains at that time, and a lot more convenient. Even then,though,urban congestion was beginning to be considered a negative factor for the auto.

Railroad planners everywhere had to face up to the challenge:  rail travel must be comfortable, reasonably priced, on-time and able to reach the traveler’s destination about as quickly as an airplane would.     

I want to say at the outset that this paper is possible only because material is available on the Internet.


Japan was driven to the concept of the super fast train.  Its large cities and high population density have made the automobile alternative especially unattractive.  In May 1956 the Japanese National Railways created a team to study the feasibility of very fast passenger trains, called bullet trains or the Shinkansen in Japanese. There were some serious technical issues in addition to the obvious financial issues.  Two of the major technical questions addressed by the study team were:   would the very fast train adhere to the track?  and can a roadbed be strong enough to survive the pounding?  Both were answered in the affirmative by testing. It is significant that the ability of locomotives to propel trains at the necessary speeds was a given, and not an issue.

Two and a half years later the project  was authorized to link Tokyo and Osaka, a distance of 322 miles, with high speed rail (All distances and speeds will be given in miles and miles per hour.)  Two years later, in October 1964, regular service was started with 60 trains daily, at top speeds of 131 mph, the highest in the world at that time.  To keep the achievement in perspective, however, the trip took 4 hours, so the average speed was only 80 mph, but still a respectable figure 40 years later. The Tokyo-Osaka run time has since been reduced to 2 hours, or 130 mph average.   The goal of attaining trip times competitive with airlines has been achieved for the 322-mile run.

The MAP shows how the high speed lines cover the 1000-mile length of the islands. Today there are 5 Japanese main lines serviced by trains running at top speeds between 160 and 186 mph. Japan has clearly led the way in high speed rail. The system carries over 130 million passengers annually, runs about 300 trains daily on the mainline Tokyo-Osaka run, has never had an accident or a derailment, and maintains a zero mortality rate for passengers and crews.  The on-time performance on this route is an average deviation from schedule of 0.6 minutes per train, regardless of rain, snow and typhoons.

Let’s look at how this remarkable record has been achieved. Bullet trains consist of 4 to 16 permanently-attached, electrically powered cars. Each car is equipped with an electric motor driving system so there is no locomotive pulling or pushing the train.  The Japanese system is better for curvy track and short inter-city distances which make it necessary to accelerate and decelerate frequently.  It is a good braking method because when power is reduced to decelerate, the electricity generated by magnetic induction in each car functions as a brake.

Two constraints on the Japanese development have been unique to that country.  The first is the numerous curves resulting from the terrain and the population density.  Although the terrain chosen for the right-of-ways is relatively flat, 40% of the Tokyo-Osaka mileage consists of curves.  The sharpest curves have radii of only 2500 yards and comprise about 12 % of the total length.  They could never have achieved the required shortening of travel time if the maximum speed was attained only on the straight-line portions.  Therefore the speed on the sharp curves had to be raised as much as possible to achieve the goal of 2 hours 30 minutes.

The second constraint was environmental: vibration and noise.  The routes pass through one city after another, so vibration and noise effects on neighbors had to be accounted for.  The requirement is noise of less than 70 phons at points 75 feet from the rail line.  Sources of noise are wheel/rail contact, the pantograph on the roof, and aerodynamic air friction.   These sources generally vary directly with weight, so weight reduction is vital.  Some of the improvements include use of aluminum structural members instead of steel and change from a DC operating system to AC. Another consideration has been structural rigidity necessary to withstand atmospheric forces acting on the body, especially when passing through tunnels and when meeting another train.

COMMENTS: The   Japanese started the high speed train movement in the 1960’s and have been in the forefront ever since.  While speed records have sometimes been overtaken by the French, Japan continues to operate the most efficient high speed system in the world.  Its trains are typically full.

The latest year for which I can find data is 1997.  Japan had the fastest scheduled leg, 120 miles from Hiroshima to Kokura, in 44 minutes, or 164 mph, at 187.5 mph max speed.  Japan also held the worlds speed record, a test run of 277 mph.

Clearly, Shinkansen roadbeds are double-tracked and handle passenger trains only. Even then I have difficulty accepting the quoted average deviation from schedule of only 36 seconds for the 322 mile Tokyo-Osaka run.  Perhaps I am too accustomed to US trains that are hours late.

Perhaps there are two double-tracks on the Tokyo-Osaka route.  Three hundred trains per day, although they may not all be terminal-to-terminal, equate to an average 12   per hour, 6 each direction per hour.  That’s a little over a train every 10 minutes all day and night.  When rush hours and late nights are considered,  the spacing must be more like 4 or 5 minutes during rush hours.  Hence maybe two double-tracks.  This analysis applies only to the busiest segment: Tokyo-Osaka.

The writer has seen no mention of consideration of the “tilting” train in the Japanese literature.  If that is truly the case, it seems unusual because the Japanese are faced with much more curved track than any other country, and the tilting train is an answer for high speed on curves because it compensates for the centrifugal force created on the passengers. 


We have seen that the Japanese have led the way to high speed rail, beginning in the mid-60’s and continuing today.  From their experience and that of other countries, which will be covered shortly, we can conclude that the following attributes of a high speed rail system are either necessary or desirable:

  • Right-of-way at least double-tracked
  • No road crossings at grade level
  • Right-of-way fenced off
  • No freight or local passenger traffic            

These items are safety considerations to minimize the possibility of a train hitting some object on the tracks.

  • Curves of at least 4 mile radius and well banked

Tight curves greatly restrict the speed of high-speed trains;  curves can be banked more because conventional trains do not run on dedicated high-speed lines, and high-speed trains rarely stop because of a signal.

  • Wide spacing between parallel tracks, especially on curves and in tunnels

Tunnels and passing trains impose a severe structural problem.  Large pressure changes result, causing potential damage to windows and structural members.  Some countries whose terrain dictates many tunnels restrict speeds in the tunnels.

  • Electric propulsion

The advantages of electric propulsion and its almost universal use are detailed later.

  • Fixed train sets

.Fixed train-set means a train is made up of a fixed number of cars, which are normally not   ever changed.

 Now let’s see how other countries have built on the highly successful Japanese experience with high-speed rail to achieve similar results.


The French have led the way in Europe.  Starting with studies and experiments in the early 1970’s, the French have designed and built a TGV system into a high-speed network which already connects most of the major cities of the nation.  TGV in French is “Train a Grande Vitesse”, or in English “high-speed train”.  The French have learned from the experience of the Japanese and introduced improvements of their own.  (Let me insert here that the information available on the Internet for the TGV is much more extensive than for the Japanese system.  Therefore most of the descriptions which follow are necessarily based on the French.)

The MAP shows that the TGV system radiates from Paris in all directions.  It is part of the London to Paris and Brussels Eurostar network using the tunnel under the English Channel;  it reaches Marseille and Nice in the south; Le Mans and Tours, and eventually Brest and Bordeaux on the west;  and Geneva and eventually Strasbourg on the east.  It even includes a bypass around Paris for through north/ south trains and a route to Euro  Disneyland. Its total high-speed track, called Ligne a Grande Vitesse, has reached about1500 miles, all double-tracked.

Mentioning Geneva introduces another aspect of  western Europe’s growing high-speed networks which span national boundaries.  That is part of a new multi-nation system called the Thalys.   Participating countries are Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.  Paris to Brussels has already been mentioned; 24 trains run each way each day between those two cities, in 1 hour twenty-five minutes; every half-hour in peak periods. Travel time between Brussels and Marseille on the Mediterranean, a distance of 796 miles,  has been reduced to four and a half hours, and from Brussels to Geneva to five and a quarter hours. The Thalys service has been extended now to Amsterdam, with 7 round trips from Brussels each day.  Of especial interest is the extension east from Brussels through the Ardennes to Cologne and Dusseldorf in Germany.   

Now let’s talk about speed.  How fast are high-speed trains? The Japanese and the French have played leapfrog for many years with the world’s speed record.  No other country has seriously participated in the race.  Two aspects of speed records are involved:  first, the trial runs over relatively short distances under controlled conditions;   an analogy is a track meet;  this excites the technical personnel involved, but doesn’t sell tickets;  and second, scheduled train service over significant distances, does sell tickets.

I cited earlier the 1997 the record for the fastest scheduled service held by the Japanese for the Hiroshima-Kokura run, a distance of  120 miles, in 44 minutes, an average of 164 miles per hour.  The French followed closely with a Lille-Charles de Gaulle Aiport run,   127 miles, in 48 minutes, an average of 159 miles per hour.  Top speeds for both was 186 miles per hour.  The newest scheduled service  record was set by the TGV on May 26th of this year:  Calais at the end of the Chunnel to Marseilles, a distance of  667 miles, in 3 hours 29 minutes, an average of  191 mph.  Highest speed is 210 mph.  The Japanese also may have increased its fastest scheduled service since 1997, but I could find no indication of it.

Now let’s see what has made it possible to attain such high speeds.  The importance of the track and roadbed has already been alluded to.  Improvement in this area has come in two areas:  stiffness of the track and roadbed;  and weight reduction of rolling stock.  At the start of the high-speed era it was recognized that locomotives and rolling stock could attain the desired speeds, but only at the cost of extreme damage to the track causing unacceptable maintenance costs.  This was caused by heavy equipment and track deflection, aggravated by the weight and speed.

The French have attacked weight reduction in every possible area.  Substituting lightweight, strong materials in this technological age is obvious.  A significant improvement in weight was the elimination of one whole set of bogies, or trucks, per car by sharing a bogie between the two adjacent cars.  This means that the cars are semi-permanently joined and cannot be switched on or off during a trip. This leads to the configuration commonly adopted: fixed train configurations. Many other studies and experiments have been conducted to improve stability, noise, vibration-damping and aerodynamic drag.

Locomotives are universally driven by electric power.  This is natural in Europe and Japan, which historically have had electric main lines.   Electric locomotion has many advantages over the only alternative, diesel.  The most obvious is that while a diesel engine carries its fuel on board,  electric power is generated offline at a fixed generating plant.  Electric locomotives are powered by transformers which receive power from pantographs on top of the train contacting the overhead power-supplying catenary. The transformers are among the heaviest parts of the train, but they are much lighter than the diesel engine.  One recent advancement, for example,  in transformer technology, replacing copper wires with cobalt-alloyed steel and aluminum sheets, has reduced the mass from 11 metric tons to 7.5 metric tons.

The third advantage of the electric locomotive is to lessen the load on mechanical brakes by using "dynamic" braking systems which convert mechanical energy from the motors back into electricity and back up into the catenary.  During braking, operation of the electric motors is reversed, so that instead of consuming electric power the motors generate power.

It takes no imagination to realize that braking in an emergency situation presents a huge mechanical problem.  The kinetic energy of the fast-moving train, which must be dissipated as heat in the braking system, grows as the square of the speed.  The newest TGVs combine three braking systems: disk brakes similar to automobiles and airplanes, with new heat-dissipating materials;  regenerative brakes, as described above; and the newest system, magnetic induction brakes, which dissipate heat into the rails. These last two new systems account for about 90% of total braking power.

High-speed performance (a mile in 18 seconds) has shown that the speed makes the introduction of in-cab signals mandatory to supplement the roadside signals.  The signals anticipate situations 4 miles ahead to allow the driver to decelerate smoothly for passenger comfort.

Reference has been made several times to the fact that the railroad track has required more upgrade than the rolling stock.  Curves, strength to resist the pounding, and elimination of grade crossings are areas which have received attention.  The Internet contains a very detailed description of the French program to lay new track for its TGVs;   these are called Ligne a Grande Vitesse, or high speed line.  I am going to quote liberally from the Internet source to summarize the process.  First, the roadbed is carved into the landscape, using standard earth-moving equipment.  Then bridges, overpasses and underpasses, tunnels, and drainage facilities are constructed. Next a layer of compact gravel is spread and compacted to support a rubber-tired gantry crane, which lays 60-foot panels of temporary track on wooden ties.  Visualize a model railroad track section, 60 feet long.  A diesel-powered locomotive now delivers sections of continuous welded rail; each section is between 660 and 1310 feet long.  The rail is standard for high-stress track:  40 lb per foot.

A gantry crane riding on the new rails picks up the 60-foot panels and lays down sets of 30 sets of pre-spaced (24 inches)TGV ties, which are reinforced concrete 7feet 10 inches long and weighing 540 lbs.  They are equipped to receive spring fasteners and a 3/8 inch rubber pad.  A machine positions the rails on the rubber pads, and workers bolt down the spring fasteners with a torque wrench.

These long sections of rail are then welded together.   This eliminates the click-click-click with which we are all familiar.  The weld is thermite, a mixture of aluminum powder and iron oxide which reacts to produce iron, aluminum oxide and a very large amount of heat. Next a bed of ballast 12 inches deep is forced under the ties in several passes.  When the rails are final-aligned, the first of two tracks is then complete.  When the second track is completed, the overhead electric catenary is installed on steel I-beams set in concrete.    All of this results in rides so smooth and noise-free that the passenger is not aware the train is moving.

Safety is a concern of all the countries adopting high-speed rail.  We have seen that the Japanese have not had an accident or a derailment in almost 40 years of operation.  It has a zero mortality rate for passengers and crew.  This is a remarkable achievement.

The French have an equally impressive, if not so long, safety record with TGVs operating on high-speed lines, the LGVs, which represent about 25% of the total TGV mileage.   Minor mechanical problems and animals on the track have occurred, but no deaths and only one minor injury (broken window) have happened.  On the other hand where the TGVs have operated at slower speeds on regular track, there have been a half-dozen occasional accidents, primarily involving semi-trucks and trailers stuck on the track at grade crossings.  Several have been at speeds great enough to cause derailment of the locomotive and the leading passenger cars.  In each case the bogie-sharing design has been credited with keeping the balance of the cars on the track.  

Each incident has been written up, and the stories make interesting reading.

Two current developments merit mention: the introduction of double-decked passenger cars on the heavily traveled Paris to Lyon run.  That route is so heavily scheduled that the duplex car was developed instead of adding more scheduled runs.  Its seating capacity is 45% greater and its aerodynamic drag only 4% greater, so it is paying off.

The other development is the evaluation of the tilting train.  An idea which would allow greater speed on existing curves without causing passenger discomfort is to tilt the car toward the center of the curve.  France has found the advantage to be so small it is not worth the investment, although Germany and other European countries are pursuing it.

Financial restraint has slowed the construction of new LGV lines, but a number are still in the plans.  Construction of one, the 315-mile Paris to Strasbourg LGV, was begun in 1999 and will be finished in 2005.  Extensions of current LGVs to their ultimate terminals will continue.  Two new international links are planned: a 157-mile LGV Lyon to Turin, Italy, including a long tunnel;  a 213-mile LGV link to Barcelona, Spain.


Eurostar is one of the great achievements of the 1990s.  I have included it in the discussion of France, because a very high percentage of the trackage is French and TGV rolling-stock is used, but it represents an historic high-point in international political, financial cooperation.  France, the United Kingdom and Belgium are the principals.  The system is possible because the French and British governments committed to constructing the tunnel under the English Channel, the “Chunnel”, which is the body of water which saved the United Kingdom in World War II. The joint endeavor was taken at great financial and  political risk when the agreement was signed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Francois Mitterand in January 1986.

Construction began in December 1987 and boring completed in June 1991.  The final cost was $5 billion.  Three tunnels were constructed, two for trains and the center one for maintenance and emergency, of which there has been one serious one.  The tunnels are 19 miles long, extending from Folkestone in Kent to Calais in France.

The Eurostar sets of trains, each with 18 cars seating 766 passengers, are derivations of TGVs.  They run between the Waterloo Station in London, the Gare du Nord in Paris and Bruxelles-Midi in Brussels.   Paris-London service operates 24 times per day each way.  The 309 miles are traversed in 2 hours 54 minutes, for an average speed of 107 miles per hour. While this isn’t bad average speed, it is surprisingly low;  and there is an explanation.  The  68-mile route between London and the tunnel are normal British rail.  At top speed of 100 mph, the Eurostar averages only about 60 because of the roadbed and local traffic.  The speed through the Chunnel is 100 mph, restricted for safety considerations.  Then on French soil the average speed from Calais to Paris is 160 mph.  The British expect to complete their new high-speed link to the tunnel in 2003. This will reduce the time to Paris to 2 hours 20 minutes, at an average speed of 133 mph.

The London-Brussels service, which branches at Lille in northern France, operates 10 times daily in 2 hours 40 minutes, at an average speed of 89 mph over the 238 miles.

When the new British high-speed roadbed is complete, the time will be lowered to 2 hours, or 120 average mph.

Eurostar has achieved a 90% on-time result.  It enjoys about 60% market share on the London-Paris segment and 45% on London-Brussels.   Nevertheless, ridership has been below predictions.  Ironically, this is attributed to the trip times, which until the UK speed is raised, are not short enough to virtually eliminate air competition.  Profitability has suffered because of this and the huge fees paid for use of the Chunnel.

Good data are available to compare the time and cost of air vs. rail for London-Paris.  Air fare is $120 round trip and the flight is one hour.   Rail fare is $75 and the trip takes not quite three hours, with the prospect of reduction to 2 hours twenty minutes when the British track upgrade is complete.  Rail is competitive.


Like both Japan and France, German rail and auto traffic is primarily north-south.  Unlike France, which is relatively flat and has few tunnels, Germany is comparative hilly and mountainous, with many tunnels. 

Germany’s project to develop its high speed system started in the 1980s and resulted in the beginning of service in 1991. This lagged the French program, but the Germans have been catching up.  The MAP shows the extent to which the high-speed network covers the country.  Germany calls its high speed trains the ICE, for Inter-City Express.

The first ICE line in 1991 opened two segments of what would become Hamburg-Frankfurt-Munich, virtually the entire length of the country.  It was completed the next year and extended to Basel, Switzerland, the next year and to Lucerne the following year.  New lines to Berlin from Cologne and Hamburg allowed ICE service to begin in 1997.  High speed service between Cologne and Amsterdam began last year.  Germany is also a partner in the Thalys network on the Brussels/ Liege/ Aachen/Cologne/Dusseldorf segment.   One writer cited the ICE as the most luxurious rides he has ever taken, better than the TGV.

Several countries (Japan, USA, Germany and Britain) have shown interest in magnetic levitation propulsion systems for trains.  Only Germany’s interest appears to have been serious when it created a test vehicle and test track, but its interest has waned because of the enormous cost of construction per mile and the general economic situation.

The maglev train floats on a magnetic field 10 mm (0.4 inch) above a guidance track and is propelled by a linear induction motor.  Electro-magnets are embedded in the guideway to allow the magnetism to switch, pulling the train along. Whereas the standard ICE train can operate at slower speed on regular track beyond the end of its high- speed track, the potential of the maglev train is limited to connecting two very large population centers

Germany had the only serious accident involving any high speed train, and it was devastating.   On June 3rd, 1998, an ICE from Munich derailed near Eschede, north of Hamburg, at a speed of 125 mph.  I quote from a vivid Internet description: “The accident caused 100 deaths and 88 injuries. . .  The accident was caused by a broken wheel tire on the third axle of the first passenger car.  It was a new type of wheel …specifically designed for high-speed service.  About 3 miles before the accident, the tire broke, but did not cause a derailment yet.  About 200 yards before the bridge, the tire was caught in the flange guide of a switch, which broke off and derailed the first car to the right.  100 yards later, the derailed axle hit another switch, which caused the next bogie to derail.   The third car went far enough from the track to destroy a bridge pillar, and separated from the train, triggering the emergency brake in both parts of the train.  The bridge came down slowly enough for the fourth car to pass without being hit, but the fifth car was cut in half, the sixth was buried under the bridge, and the rest of the train crashed into it.”

ICE high speed service is a cut below comparable service in Japan and France.  The fastest scheduled segment is between Fulda and Wurzburg at 125 mph.  Most major segments are in the 90 to 100 mph category.  This is the result of curves, tunnels and frequent stops.

Germany has what is probably the most intensive rail network in the world.  In order to upgrade the service on existing routes without incurring the enormous costs necessary to build new ICE roadbeds, Germany has been investigating the tilting train.

Railway planners deciding on a new system can invest either in either a new expensive high-speed roadbed with standard rolling stock or in expensive tilting mechanisms to allow them to run on existing lines.  France found that the tilting train isn’t necessary, but Germany and most other European countries are pursuing the tilt train.

I suspect that the tilting train is really the only completely new information in this paper, at least to many of you. Cars are tilted toward the center of the curve to offset the centrifugal force created when a train negotiates a curve.  On existing tracks train speed is often restricted on curves because otherwise passengers are forced uncomfortably to the sides of their seats by centrifugal force.  Since that force varies as the square of velocity, increasing train speed on existing curves raises the discomfort factor disproportionately unless some means are employed to offset it.  That is the function of the tilting car.  The top PHOTO shows the effect on a train in motion, where the lead car is tilted more than the track. The bottom left shows the tilting plate, to which the car structure is attached, and which itself is attached to the bogie.  The bottom right shows the relation of the tilted car to the track.  Tilting is controlled by hydraulic actuators acting on commands from a computer sensing the need to tilt.  8 degrees from vertical is the maximum tilt.

Germany has been very seriously working on the tilt train since the early 1990s because it offers the potential of trains operating up to 140 mph on 95% of the existing track at reasonable cost. The improvement on curves is 20%.  Their use has been especially effective in the mountainous regions of middle and southern Germany.  There are 76 tilt train sets in operation and 171 basic ICE train sets,  which  indicates the importance of the tilt train to the German operation.  It should also be mentioned that there are 20 tilt trainsets diesel-powered for operation on non-electrified lines.


The geography of Italy closely resembles Japan’s because it is long and narrow, north and south.  Each country is about 1000 miles long, and each capital is located near the middle.  In 1970 Italy purchased tilting technology when Britain abandoned its Advanced Passenger Train program and combined it with its own tilting experiments.   Many years passed before the first operational vehicle emerged in 1987.  It was called the Pendolino, and it became the prototype not only for the Italian rail system but also for many other countries in Europe, as we shall see. There are 35 Pendolino trainsets in operation on existing tracks primarily in east-west direction

Since 1996 Italy has developed its 524-mile trunk line down the spine of the peninsula from Milan on the north to Naples, and serving the major population centers of Bologna, Florence and Rome.  This trunk line is a high-speed line using 60 trainsets of Italian-manufactured rolling stock similar to the TGV and ICE.  It is called Eurostar Italia, and when completed will be integrated into the European rail system.  The scheduled speeds are in the 110 to 140 mph category for major segments.. The fare is modest.  Venice to Florence costs $60 and $48 first and second class one way.  Alitalia, the Italian airline, charges $128 for the trip.  Rail is competitive. 


We have been addressing two types of trains in service in Germany and Italy:  the standard TGV/ICE high-speed train and the tilting train.   The situation gets more complicated in Spain.   The reason:  there are also two track gauges in use.  Historically, Spanish railroads have used 1668 mm gauge tracks, or 5 feet 5 2/3 inches.  Most trains still use those tracks. 

Beginning in 1986 Spain created a project known as AVE (“Alta Velocidad Espanola” or Spanish High Speed) to take advantage of the gains made by the TGV in France and to take steps to connect to the European system, whose gauge universally is 4 feet 8 inches.  In 1988 an order was placed with a French firm to build 24 TGV-type trainsets to run on a new standard gauge line between Madrid and Seville at a top speed of 186 mph.

Average speed has been 131 mph over the almost 300 miles.

The line between Barcelona and Valencia is being upgraded to high-speed status, but it is wide gauge.  6 AVE broad gauge trainsets have been ordered.

Planning has been completed for a high-speed line north from Madrid to Segovia.  The gauge was not stated in the literature.  Of note is the fact that 8 of the 15 tracks in the main Madrid terminal are standard gauge and 7 broad gauge.

In the summer of 1999 Spain introduced Alaris tilting trains on the broad gauge line from Madrid to Valencia on the Mediterranean.  This has been a very busy route, generating much revenue.  Ten Pendolino trainsets were ordered from the British builder Alsom and Fiat working as a consortium.  Some of the 306 miles of track have been upgraded to make it suitable for 125 mph operation.  Speed averages 95 mph.


British long-distance rail is transitioning at least partially to privately operated systems, a departure from European government-owned and operated systems.  There are two north-south main lines from London to Scotland. This paper will address only the 400-mile West Coast Main Line to Glasgow via Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham because it is being privatized and is therefore the more interesting. 

This line was electrified in the mid-1960s.  It has four tracks until it reaches Scotland, two for fast trains and two for slow trains in both directions.  No improvements have been made for years because the line has been starved for funds, whereas the East Coast Main Line has been adequately funded. 

Richard Branson, the flamboyant owner of Virgin Atlantic Airlines and other businesses, won a 15-year franchise in 1997 to operate the line.  The $100 million subsidy Virgin received in 1998/99 will be reduced annually to zero and Virgin will begin paying the government, about $180 million in 2006/7.  Virgin will invest about $3 billion in track and signaling improvements and in a fleet of 55 140-mph tilting trains.  The line is a curving, undulating railway passing through some of the most difficult terrain of any main routes.  Thus the tilting train is a good choice instead of much more expensive roadbed realignment.

Britain will also invest almost $2 billion in the program.  This is somewhat ironic because this is the route where Britain made the first tests of the tilting train in the early 1970s before abandoning the project;  now they are buying trains from Italy, which bought the technology.

The current average speed for the London-Glasgow trip is 75 mph.  By 2005 this will increase to 105 mph, cutting an hour and a half off the travel time.


The remainder of the countries in the world with high-speed rail in operation or in development are minor players, so they will be covered in brief summary form.


210 mile upgraded line between Porto and Lisbon.  Broad gauge.  10 trainsets Pendolino tilting cars.  Ultimate speed 140 mph.  Planning 23-mile second high-speed line, standard gauge, between Lisbon and new airport at Ota.


The Swiss have upgraded the lines between Geneva, Basel, Lausanne and Zurich to operate its 24 Pendolino tilting trainsets at half-hour frequencies.  Top speed: 125 mph.


Tilting test trials began in the late 1960s. Two high-speed lines: Stockholm to Arlanda airport, 26 miles.  7 Pendolino trainsets for Arlanda Express. Stockholm to Goteborg : 20 Pendolino trainsets, 125 mph.


October 1998 started operation on a new 12-mile high-speed link north between Oslo and the new Gardermoen/Oslo airport at ten-minute intervals.  Alternate trains continue 30 miles to Eidsvoll. This includes a 9-mile tunnel.  Returning south, alternate trains continue 17 miles beyond Oslo to Asker.  16 3-car tilting trainsets based on Swedish designs.  Maximum speed: 130 mph.  However, average speed to the airport is only 36 mph.  Plans call for service to Bergen, Trondheim and Stavanger.


 The Finns have two high-speed routes:  Helsinki to Turku and Helsinki to Jyvaskyla,  the latter opened this month.  Third generation Pendolino tilting trains are built by Fiat


The Aussies have one narrow-gauge high-speed line in Queesland between Brisbane and Cairns. Tilting trains are used.  A second line, standard gauge, between Sydney and Canberra is in the planning stage.  TGV railstock will be used.


South Korea is building a high-speed line from Seoul to Pusan, about 300 miles.  TGV equipment, some built in Korea, will be used.


At a cost of $17 billion Taiwan is developing a 220-mile high-speed roadbed the length of the island between Taipei and Kaoshiung, the second largest city.  Surprisingly, because of the terrain and the population density, 87% of the line will be either in tunnels or elevated.  Trainsets incorporating both TGV and ICE will be constructed.


First, let’s talk about the one success Amtrak has achieved in 30 years of operation, the Washington, D.C.-New York-Boston route.  It has captured almost half of the traffic between the cities.  The Washington-New York segment is operated on the electrified line originally developed and operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad. It used heavy rail and powerful locomotives for passenger and freight service, but its speed was mediocre.   After Amtrak took over, it introduced the Metroliner, which improved the speed, the frequency and the performance.  Today the Metroliners  run about 15 trips per day in each direction in three hours, at an average speed of 77 mph over the 230 miles.  It stops only at Baltimore, Wilmington and Philadelphia.

The other part of the Amtrak Northeast Corridor route is from Boston to New York, over what was originally the New Haven road.  It had always been a second-class roadbed, but Amtrak has improved the track and electrified New Haven to New York to prepare for the introduction of its new high-speed Acela Express, which it has been developing since 1995.  In 1996 Amtrak ordered 18 trainsets from the consortium of Alsom, the experienced British manufacturer, and Bombardier of Canada. Another large order was placed in 1998.  These configurations, consisting of power units at each end and 6 passenger cars, are similar to the TGV/ICEs except that they tilt.  Their entry into service was very slow, because of manufacturing problems, since they didn’t start operation until early 2000.

Acela Express operates from Washington to New York 11 times each day and on to Boston 8 times a day.  Although Acela was advertised as reducing the Washington-New York Metroliner trip from 3 hours to less than 2 , that improvement has not been realized;  both require 3 hours.  However, the Boston-New York has been reduced from 5 hours to 3 hours and a half. 

 Metroliners and Acela require reservations.  The Acela round trip fare from Washington to New York is $288 and the trip takes 3 hours;  Metroliner costs $244.  For comparison airline fare is $407 and the flight time is 1 hour 9 minutes.  Amtrak is very competitive when cost and total trip time are considered.

Amtrak has done a good job with passenger comfort and all sorts of conveniences just as the other countries have done:  conference tables, video and audio channel plug-ins at each seat, improved food service, for example.   Included in first class fare are a meal and complimentary drinks. I wonder, though, how the smoothness of the ride compares with TGV or ICE?

Elsewhere in the country Amtrak has done a poor-to-miserable job of improving service. 

I vividly remember an Amtrak trip from San Bernardino to St. Louis.  We left at 8:30 pm Friday to arrive at noon Sunday.  That already required a mental adjustment by one used to flying.   At midnight we arrived at Barstow, not half way across our own county in the time it takes to fly 2000 miles to St. Louis.   Another example: one cannot take the train to San Francisco from any direction;  you must debark at Oakland and get to San Francisco the best way you can.  And if you want to take the Sunset Limited from LA to Oakland or Portland or Seattle, be prepared to ride a bus to Bakersfield.

One negative factor beyond its control has always been that Amtrak is at the mercy of the railroads from whom it leases usage rights.  The railroads have no incentive to give the right-of-way to passenger service at the expense of their profitable freight service.  This is the way it has always been.  I’m still chuckling over a nave letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times several weeks ago in which a Beverly Hills couple suggested that to improve rail service, Congress should enact legislation requiring freight trains always to take the sidings so passenger trains can pass;  and secondly, that Amtrak should own its own tracks!  A mega-billion suggestion.

When US railroads are discussed, the question invariably arises: “Why can’t we have service throughout the country like Japan or France?”  There are two basic reasons, in my opinion.  The first is geography and distance.  Germany is only 13% greater in area than New Mexico.  Germany and France combined are about the size of Arizona and New Mexico.  If  that were the scope of our problem, we could match the best.   But instead of trips measured in the hundreds of miles, many of ours are in the thousands of miles category.  The second basic reason is that our railroads are privately owned by a number of companies, even after the recent mergers and consolidations.  American railroad operators have always promoted freight and barely tolerated passenger traffic, which was usually money-losing.  That mindset continues.

There is no rail authority corresponding to the central governments in other countries.  Not only are railroads not subsidized by governments, they pay huge taxes as a result of  their extensive real estate holdings, whereas the airlines are highly subsidized. 

On the brighter side, there are a number of regions in this country where high-speed trains could probably prosper, and a number of states have agencies looking into the possibilities.  Let’s name some: Miami-Orlando-Tampa;  Houston-San Antonio-Dallas;  Chicago as the hub and St. Louis,  Detroit,  Cincinnati and the Twin Cities as spokes;  yes, San Diego-Los Angeles-San Francisco-Sacramento. Each of these is within the 400-500 mile range where high-speed rail can compete with the airlines. You will notice I have not included the outrageous proposal for a high-speed train from Anaheim to Las Vegas, 95% of the cost borne by California so Californians can deposit their money in Las Vegas.

Since 1993 California has had a High Speed Rail Authority charged with studying the potential routes and funding for a high-speed rail project from Los Angeles to San Francisco, with extensions to San Diego and Sacramento.  Three corridors have been considered:  US 101, I-5 and Route 99.  The latest information I have indicates that the Route 99 inland route is favored because it also provides service to Bakersfield, Fresno and other valley cities.  Here are some of the findings:  $20.7 billion to construct; LA-SF fare: $40; average speed 160 mph; times: LA-SF 2:49; LA-SD 1:12. 


Japan, France and Germany have shown that high-speed rail can compete with other modes of transportation, especially the airplane, when trips are about 500 miles or less and the cost is sufficiently lower to compensate for the somewhat greater end-to-end travel time. 

The United States has only begun to develop high-speed rail, and then only with the moderate-speed Acela Express and only in the Northeast.

What is holding back the development of high-speed rail in this country?

Much greater inter-city distances 

The astronomical cost-per-mile of new dedicated roadbed

Fragmented ownership of US railroads

Historic distaste for passenger service by railroad managements

No national imperative to improve rail service

Amtrak is under Congressional mandate to break even in the next few years, and that doesn’t appear to be possible.  The future of  passenger service in this country looks bleak.

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