Top Ten High Tech Trains

by Baba

Last updated on May 24th, 2011 at 07:03 am

Ever since Richard Trevithick produced the first design of the steam locomotive way back in 1804 and George Stephenson unveiled his first working steam locomotive, the Blücher in 1814, advances of technology and ideas of how to improve the efficiency and design have progressed to the trains we see today.

Back in the 19th century when the industrial revolution in Great Britain was in its infancy the invention of the steam engine was primarily to help haul coal from mines and take it to be processed. For the first time, wooden rails were being replaced by iron rails in order to accommodate the sheer weight of these new mechanical beasts. As the economy grew, an impressive network of railway lines sprang up and it wasn’t long before the idea of fabricating the first passenger train took shape. Within decades the train journey became a rather exciting experience and one met with great anticipation.

The joy and romance of a train journey didn’t last much past the latter half of the 20th century; for many people the railways had become the province of the commute, one of the most depressing and tedious moments in our working lives. At least the comfort, speed and helpful passenger features continue to improve. I wish my understanding of train times and fares would improve! But until then, let’s take a look at the best trains on the planet’s railways today.



With a top speed of 140mph (limited by track signal systems to 125mph) this is one of the fastest trains in the UK. Indeed, it set a new speed record in 2006, completing the West Coast Main Line’s 401 miles Glasgow to London trip in 3 hours 55 minutes, knocking 19 minutes off the previous record. This fast time is partially due to Fiat’s tilting train technology allowing greater speed on the curving route. Pendolino, incidentally is an Italian word meaning pendulum.


These modern, attractive trains cost Eurostar around £500 million and comprise sixteen carriage trainsets that can carry 900 passengers within its 400m length.  Unlike the West Coast Main Line’s restrictions limiting speed to 125mph, the E320s can run at an amazing 200mph.



In December 2009 Russia began operating its high tech express service. This modern look is a far cry from the Trans Siberian trundle across seven time zones. The trains have been specially widened by 33cm to accommodate Russia’s tracks. At 250m long each train carries up to 600 passengers. Already setting speed records, the current track-limited speed of 160mph is soon to be increased to 186mph courtesy of rail improvements. Speed is a relatively new concept to the Russian network; no wonder that they’ve named it Sapsan – Peregrine Falcon.



High tech goes hand in hand with speed. Unlike the car market where marketing promoted vehicles that could pointlessly exceed 70mph; raising train speeds is a positive boon that is vital for a country’s economy. China now rules the world for having the fastest ever long distance passenger train service. The journey from Guangzhou to Wuhan used to take a minimum of 11 hours, now completed in an amazing 3 hours! An average speed of 220 mph is no mean feat and compare this with Amtrak’s Acela ‘Express’ service takes 3½ hours to trundle between Boston and New York, a distance of only 300km.

6. TGV

Arguably the most famous European high tech train is the French Train à Grand Vitesse (High Speed Train.) It held the record of the fastest passenger train but this was broken by the Chinese Harmony Express. Speed is important but so is safety. In the thirty years that the TGV has been running there have been no fatalities due to its running despite derailments and accidents that affect every rail network. This is due to the technology behind the design of the carriages.



Nederlandse Spoorwagen (Dutch Railways) shows that high tech doesn’t have to be just speed. The new series DD-Z Trains maintains comfort, style and technology in the form of a passenger double decker train.



Using electromagnetic force instead of a conventional engine is a futuristic system with many advantages. They make very little sound; with maglevs it’s just the noise of air resistance when it’s in motion. No rolling resistance means increased efficiency. The important speed range of over 100mph comes with significantly lower fuel consumption than the standard diesel motor. Previously I’ve extolled the express speeds of over 200mph; well with these you’ll need to buckle yourself in for speeds of over 300mph! Far too fast for me; I’ll stick with my trains to London!



This concept train is trying to combine the benefits of the maglev without the downsides. It uses the idea of reduced rolling resistance without the technological overhead of having to maintain a maglev’s constant current requirements.


2. A.V.E.

Over in Spain the Alta Velocidad Española (Spanish High Speed) goes to extremes to ensure good, prompt service. Unlike what we are used to in the UK, in certain areas of Spain you would get your fare refunded if the train arrives more than five minutes late. Of course the AVE has a dedicated line to travel on which does make a difference…

It hurtles along with a top speed of 186mph but in practice it tends to average out at 120mph.


And finally…


The Japanese train network, Shinkansen, is world famous, and with good reason, for its high speed Bullet Trains. Operating speeds of 186mph with test runs of 275mph mark the service out for excellent journey times. Each train is capable of carrying 1300 passengers and, when you consider that up to ten trains per hour run between Osaka and Tokyo, then you won’t be surprised by the fact that the Shinkansen has carried effectively the entire population of the planet; some 6 billion people.


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