The race for the next high-speed train

The race is on, so to speak, with a number of countries and companies recently announcing their plans for the next-generation of high-speed rail travel. While France set the railroad world speed record in 2007 at 575 km/h (357 mph), Japan and most western European countries have set their revenue speed limit at 300 km/h, or around 186 mph. It looks like eager train-travelers (and possibly former air travelers) will soon be traveling a good deal faster in almost any of the above-mentioned countries. Read on for details on some of Japan, China and France’s high-speed ambitions.

Japan, the country that most will agree invented high-speed rail as we know it, is now showing off a prototype of a new high-speed train. Well, more specifically, it’s a Japanese company that’s doing so – Kawasaki Heavy Industries. The design of the amazingly-titled Environmentally Friendly Super Express Train (or efSET) will be complete by March 2009, with engineering testing done in 2010. A lightweight body will allow the train to run at up to 350 km/h (217 mph) in revenue service, and components tested in daily Shinkansen service will keep the system reliable. Kawasaki hopes to sell its design to Japan Rail as well as other countries around the world.

Not to be outdone, Alstom, a French company that’s been building high-speed trains for decades has also unveiled the first generation of its AGV (Automotrice Grande Vitesse). The train is, in fact, already done and is currently undergoing testing at various sites all over Europe. Alstom expects its design to travel at revenue speeds of 360 km/h (223 mph).

Finally, as we’ve previously reported, China is developing a new high-speed link between Beijing and Shanghai. The 380 km/h (236 mph) trains will make the 650-mile trip in about five hours and are scheduled to debut in 2012. Curiously enough, it’s the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that has the most thorough report on the matter, so check it out if you’re interested.