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01 Dec 2016

Future of High Speed Rail

High-speed rail continues to evolve across the world, with new developments in China and America adding to existing networks in Europe and East Asia. Originally introduced in Japan as the 'bullet train' in the 1960s, high-speed rail systems offer significant advantages over air travel and traditional rail infrastructure. While fast rail technology still seems a long way off in Australia and New Zealand, the Hyperloop One system and other new developments may see this dream become a reality sooner rather than later.

High-speed rail is capable of reaching sustained speeds of 350km/h or more, with new lines in excess of 250 km/h and existing lines in excess of 200 km/h widely considered to be high-speed. These systems are already extremely popular across Europe and Asia, most notably in France, Germany, Spain, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and China. Despite starting out just 20 years ago, China's high-speed rail system has quickly developed into the world's most extensive network, accounting for more than 60 percent of the world's high-speed lines.

With the California High Speed Rail system already in construction and the possibility of the world’s longest high-speed line being developed between Beijing and Moscow, fast rail travel has become a viable option for passengers across the world. High-speed systems are currently being developed in all corners of the globe, including a line between Morocco and Tunis in North Africa, a line from Astana to Almaty in Kazakhstan, and a line connecting the three biggest cities in Iran. New high-speed rail infrastructure is also under construction across Europe, including the Copenhagen–Ringsted line in Denmark and a number of lines across Sweden.

Along with work already under construction, there are lots of proposals for new high-speed systems in countries as diverse as South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Norway, and Russia just to name a few. While there has been numerous proposals to develop a high-speed network in Australia between Sydney and Melbourne via Canberra, the huge distances and small population make it a difficult commercial proposition. A high-speed local network has also been proposed in Auckland, with the relatively small population of New Zealand also making this a challenging investment.   

Most high-speed rail systems use an advanced version of conventional rail technology, including the French TGV POS, German ICE 3, and Japanese E5 and E6 Series Shinkansen systems. These trains have a maximum commercial speed of 320 km/h, only beaten by the Shanghai Maglev Train in China which reaches speeds of 431 km/h during its daily service. The Shanghai Maglev line is the first and only commercially operated magnetic levitation line in the world, a technology also being developed by the forward-thinking Elon Musk and his Hyperloop One project.

The Hyperloop One system promises incredible speeds of more than 1000 km/h along a magnetic track. While this system has been demonstrated publicly, doubts surrounding its safety and viability still remain. According to Hyperloop One’s vice-president, Alan James, however, Australians in particular should be optimistic about this technology: "We’re very keen to explore the potential for doing proof of operations in Australia ... Melbourne to Sydney is the third busiest air corridor in the world and we can give you Melbourne downtown to Sydney downtown in 55 minutes ... This is not a ‘10 years away story’, this is not a ‘five years away story’, and literally months from now the world will be able to touch, smell and see an operational Hyperloop.”

Image Source: Sailorr /