As Japan has just tested the one of the world’s fastest bullet trains, the ALFA-X, which clocks in at 400 kilometers per hour/249 miles per hour, I thought it would be a good time to revisit bullet trains. How were they invented? How fast are they? Why are they some places but not others?
Bullet trains were originally designed in Japan. The first bullet train that opened for commuter service was the Hikari bullet train which opened October 1, 1964, and ran until 1999. Hideo Shima was the first designer of the bullet train and finished his plans for Japan’s high speed railway in 1959. Japan then built the the train and tracks in just five years, in time for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
After Japan’s success, countries such as Austria, France, Belgium, Germany, China, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom built similar high speed bullet trains.
The fastest train in the world is the Shanghai Maglev, in China, which can reach speeds of 267 miles per hour. The second fastest train in operation is the Fuxing Hao, also in China, which has gone as fast as 236 miles per hour. The originator of the bullet train, Japan, has the world’s third fastest train, the Shinkansen, which can go 224 miles per hour.
The fastest trains outside of Asia are housed in Italy and both can reach speeds of 220 miles per hour. They’re called the Italo and the Frecciarossa and are made by competing companies.
In America, there are no high speed trains, at least according to world standards. There are trains in America that can reach speeds of 125 miles per hour, which is considered by the U.S. to be a high speed railway, but according to world standards the minimum for a high speed train is 160 miles per hour. California has planned the first high speed railway in the U.S., but it is not planned to be completed until the year 2040.