Japan introduced the world's first high-speed rail line, between Tokyo and Osaka for the 1964 Olympics. Bullet Trains, known as Shinkansen in Japanese, now travel at speeds up to 185 miles per hour over some 1,500 miles of rail lines across Japan.
In Europe, Italy linked Rome and Florence in 1978 with a high speed line; today high speed trains connect Spain, Germany, Belgium, Britain and France at speeds up to 150 miles per hour or more. France's TGV from Paris to Avignon runs at 158 miles per hour. China's high speed Trains run at 217 miles per hour along a new, 75-mile route between Beijing and Tianjin unveiled for the 2008 Olympics, and maglev trains blast by at 268 mph between Shanghai city and Shanghai airport. US trains on the contrary barely register 90 miles per hour. Amtrak's Acela train between Washington, D.C. and Boston briefly hits 150 miles per hour in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but averages only about 85 mph over the full route due to limitations of the tracks and overhead electric lines.
European and Asian nations, compared to US have actively vouched for high-speed rail as higher gas prices and denser populations make rail travel generally more attractive. However, the cost of constructing high speed networks is pretty high-recent rail construction in Spain averaged some $22 million per mile (Rs 65 Crores per kilometer). Many high-speed train initiatives have therefore been derailed due to their skyhigh cost.
( A Chinese High speed train passing through the countryside)
Austin Ramzy in the Aug 16 issue of TIME writes:
In 1981 China had 54,000 km of track; by the end of 2010 it will have nearly doubled that to 100,000 km. More importantly, China has gone from having one of the world's largest rail networks to also having one of the best. It covers some of the world's most difficult terrain — like the Tibetan Plateau, where workers laid track over a 5,000-m pass and 550 km of permafrost to link the Tibetan capital of Lhasa with the rest of China. The system has also seen a steady increase in average speed, from 48 km/h in 1993 to 70 km/h in 2007. On some routes, averages are phenomenal. The journey from the city of Wuhan in central China to Guangzhou in the south is now covered at 313 km/h. It's the fastest average speed in the world for a passenger train and cuts the trip time from 10 and a half hours to three hours.
Chinese authorities aren't satisfied, however. Spending on railroad construction increased 80% over 2008 totals to reach $88 billion in 2009. It will climb to $120 billion this year and exceed $700 billion over the next decade. The most ambitious focus of that investment is the expansion of China's high-speed passenger rail. Right now, China is the world's leader with 6,552 km of high-speed tracks (defined as those that can carry trains at speeds over 200 km/h). It plans to double that distance in two years.
But critics worry that with more than half of China's population still rural, spending billions on fancy rail projects is excessive — particularly as it comes a mere decade after the country embarked on building an equally impressive highway system.
Although construction costs are cheap in China, high-speed railways are also much more expensive to build and maintain than standard railroads. Fast-train networks have traditionally been built in smaller, developed nations like Japan, because they are best suited to travel between highly populated, closely located cities — not in a place like China, where large cities are spread out. What's more, many Chinese are perfectly willing to take slower, cheaper trains.
( A High Speed Train station's passenger waiting area in China)