The fastest rail service in Britain is offered by Eurostar, their eponymous eighteen-carriage Class 373 trains running at up to 300 kilometres per hour (186 mph) on a network of intra-Europe high-speed lines. The LGV Nord line in France opened before Eurostar services began in 1994, and newer lines enabling faster journeys were added later — HSL 1 in Belgium and High Speed 1 in southern England. The French and Belgian parts of the network are shared with Paris–Brussels Thalys services and other TGV trains. In the United Kingdom the two-stage Channel Tunnel Rail Link project was completed on 14 November 2007 and renamed High Speed 1, when the London terminus of Eurostar transferred from Waterloo International to St Pancras International.
Here we can experience Eurostar's record-breaking run from Paris Gare du Nord to London St Pancras International, in just 2 hours and 3 minutes, on September 4 2007. Click on the four arrows icon to see the video in full screen mode.
The common characteristic for high speed rail systems around the world is electric traction, usually powered by overhead lines. In Europe, Directive 96/58 defines high-speed rail as systems of rolling stock and infrastructure which regularly operate at or above 250 km/h on new tracks, or 200 km/h on existing tracks. The progression in macimum speeds for high speed railways is seen below:
1963 - Japan - Shinkansen - 256 km/h (First country to develop HSR technology) 1965 - West Germany - Class 103 locomotives - 200 km/h (Second country to develop HSR technology) 1967 - France - TGV 001 - 318 km/h (Third country to develop HSR technology) 1972 - Japan - Shinkansen - 286 km/h 1974 - West Germany - EET-01 – 230 km/h 1974 - France - Aérotrain - 430.2 km/h (high speed monorail train) 1975 - West Germany - Comet - 401.3 km/h (steam rocket propulsion) 1978 - Japan - HSST-01 - 307.8 km/h (Auxiliary rocket propulsion) 1978 - Japan - HSST-02 – 110 km/h 1979 - Japan - Shinkansen - 319 km/h 1979 - Japan - ML-500R (unmanned) - 504 km/h 1979 - Japan - ML-500R (unmanned) - 517 km/h 1981 - France - TGV - 380 km/h 1985 - West Germany - InterCityExperimental - 324 km/h 1987 - Japan - MLU001 (manned) - 400.8 km/h 1988 - West Germany - InterCityExperimental - 406 km/h 1988 - Italy - ETR 500-X - 319 km/h (Fourth country to develop HSR technology) 1988 - West Germany - TR-06 - 412.6 km/h 1989 - West Germany - TR-07 - 436 km/h 1990 - France - TGV - 515.3 km/h 1992 - Japan - Shinkansen - 350 km/h 1993 - Japan - Shinkansen - 425 km/h 1993 - Germany - TR-07 - 450 km/h 1994 - Japan - MLU002N - 431 km/h 1996 - Japan - Shinkansen - 446 km/h 1997 - Japan - MLX01 - 550 km/h 1999 - Japan - MLX01 - 552 km/h 2002 - Spain - AVE Class 330 - 362 km/h (Fifth country to develop HSR technology) 2002 - China - China Star - 321 km/h (Sixth country to develop HSR technology) 2003 - China - Siemens Transrapid 08 – 501 km/h 2003 - Japan - MLX01 - 581 km/h (current world record holder) 2004 - South Korea - HSR-350x - 352.4 km/h (Seventh country to develop HSR technology) 2006 - Germany - Siemens Velaro - 404 km/h (unmodified commercial trainset) 2007 - France - V150 - 574.8 km/h 2008 - China - CRH3 - 394.3 km/h
The Shanghai Maglev Train reaches 431 km/h during its daily service between Longyang Road and Pudong International Airport, holds the speed record of any commercial train services. Besides maglev, the fastest maximum operating speed (MOR) of any segment of any high speed rail line is currently 350 km/h (217 mph), a record held by China. It is Beijing–Tianjin Intercity Rail which links Beijing to neighbouring Tianjin (117 km in 30 minutes). The trains have shown an unmodified capability of running 394 km/h in tests, and thus have been set to run 350 km/h in normal operation. That rail line went into operation on August 1, 2008.
Here we see the Japanese Maglev train achieving 581 km/hour.
Hitachi launched Europe’s first hybrid high-speed train in 2007, designed to reduce emission levels by up to 50%. The system consists of a battery-assisted diesel-electric traction engine.
The traction unit uses the battery when the train is at rest and in the early stages of acceleration up to around 30 kilometres an hour (19mph), at which point the conventional diesel engine kicks in. Fuel bills are reduced by a fifth. Called 'Hyabusa', the hybrid drive has been installed in a British HST power car - the New Measurement Train (NMT) - to allow realistic trials of the prototype technology, which Hitachi and its development partners Brush Traction, Network Rail and Porterbrook Leasing.
The diesel-electric uses a diesel engine to drive an electric generator, which then supplies the current to traction motors, which are geared directly to the locomotive's wheels. The main advantages of this arrangement are that, since the engine is not directly attached to the wheels, starting a heavy train cannot "stall" the engine - the motors simply heat up until they start the train moving, at which point the current level drops - and that expensive and hard to maintain overhead wires ("catenary") or third rails are not necessary. This is less of a factor in Europe, where distances are smaller, but since some North American railroads have tens of thousands of miles of track, it's a major consideration and diesel-electrics came into prominence in North America after the Second World War.
Comparing the hi-tech trains of today with those of the past is illuminating! Here we can experience a journey on a Southern Region diesel electric, on the New Romney branch.
The New Romney Branch diverged from the line that runs from Appledore, Kent (on what is now known as the Marshlink line) to Dungeness, and which closed to passengers in March 1967, by which time steam haulage had been replaced by the smart 2/3H 'Hampshire' (BR Class 205) Diesel-Elecric multiple units for almost a decade. The train departs from New Romney and Littlestone station, where we see the derelict goods yard complex of which no trace now remains. We arrive at Lydd-on-Sea (for Dungeness), a halt that opened in 1937 when, prompted by holiday camp development in the area, the Southern Railway realigned the branch to run closer to the sea. The development never materialised and the halt, no more than a short concrete platform with a basic wooden shelter and being in a particularly desolate location, half a mile from the nearest house, was only lightly used. Greatstone-on-Sea opened at the same time with similarly basic facilities, and the old station at Dungeness was closed. The Lydd Town station buildings survive, along with those at Brookland, in private hands. The line to New Romney can still be traced although the tracks were lifted shortly after closure. The line to Dungeness, having been kept open for ballast traffic after the closure of the station in 1937, remains largely intact, now operating purely to serve nuclear flask trains to and from the power station.