Conde Nast Traveler by Cynthia Drescher, May 18, 2016
While a new era of supersonic airplanes remains a concept, bullet trains are a reality around the world—and they're getting faster.
Here are the world's fastest high-speed trains in commercial service, ranked by operating speed:
1. Shanghai Maglev: 267 mph
The world’s fastest train isn’t the newest, the shiniest, or even the one with the most expensive tickets. Charging $8 per person, per ride, the Maglev runs the nearly 19 miles from Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport to the Longyang metro station on the outskirts of Shanghai. That’s right—the train, which takes just over 7 minutes to complete the journey using magnetic levitation (maglev) technology, doesn’t go to the city center. As such, the bulk of the passengers since its 2004 debut have been travelers on their way to and from the airport, cameras out and ready to snap a photo of the speed indicators when the train hits 431 km/hr (267 mph).
2. Harmony CRH380A: 236 mph
Shanghai wins again, serving as home to more than just the Maglev. China Railways’ Harmony is the world’s fastest non-maglev passenger train currently in service, connecting Shanghai with Nanjing since 2010. It now counts additional routes of Shanghai to Hangzhou and Wuhan to Guangzhou.
3. Trenitalia Frecciarossa 1000: 220 mph
Italy’s “red arrow” is Europe’s fastest, capable of shuttling passengers from Milan to Florence or Rome in under three hours. Unveiled during Expo 2015, held in Milan, the train is remarkable as much for its speed as for its construction: its components are nearly 100 percent renewable and sustainable.
4. Renfe AVE: 217 mph
Spain's fastest train is the Velaro E by Siemens, and it is used for long-distance services to major Spanish cities and beyond: traveling from Barcelona to Paris can now be accomplished on high-speed rail in six hours.
5. DeutscheBahn ICE: 205 mph
The distinctively futuristic white and silver of the Inter-City Express, or ICE, combined with its sharp red line, makes an impressive sight speeding through scenic German countryside. Similar to Spain's Renfe AVE train, Germany's fastest train is another Siemens design, the Velaro D, and was built to fit through the Channel Tunnel. This fact is important as DeutscheBahn hopes to operate these trains in the future from Frankfurt to London.
6. Eurostar e320 and TGV: 200 mph
Both the TGV and Eurostar e320 trains are tied for next on the list, but it’s the latter that’s making headlines this year. Named for its top speed of 320 km/hr (200 mph), the e320 series is the first tip-to-tail redesign of a Eurostar train in the company’s 22 years. The speedier trains—20 km/hr faster than the earlier, e300 series—are capable of trimming another 15 minutes off the already zippy Eurostar trips of around two hours between Brussels, Paris, and London. Since Eurostar delivers its passengers right to the center of each city and fares are available with Rail Europe from $70 one-way, it’s a wonder anyone still flies between the cities.
7. Hayabusa Shinkansen E5: 200 mph
Japan is celebrating the 52nd anniversary of high-speed train travel this year, since it was way back in 1964 that the Hikari train launched service between Tokyo and Osaka, cutting travel time between the country's two largest cities from nearly seven hours to a mere four by rail. The Hayabusa E5 series Shinkansen is one of the newer bullet trains on Japan's tracks, and so far the fastest in regular commercial service, running from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori at the very north of Japan's largest island, Honshu. This last March a new extension opened, allowing the route to continue north to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto on Hokkaido but at a lower average speed of 160 mph.
8. Thalys: 186 mph
Connecting Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and Cologne with multiple daily services, the Thalys is one of Europe's most important train lines for both leisure and business travelers; in fact, its ridership is almost an even split between the two categories. In December 2015 the German route was extended as far as Dortmund, though the Brussels-to-Paris run remains critical, making up more than half the business.
9. Hokuriku Shinkansen E7: 161 mph
Tickets for the March 2015 inaugural run of this train sold out in 25 seconds, and it’s no wonder when you consider that the line’s debut cut travel times from Tokyo to Toyama and Kanazawa, over the "Japanese Alps" on the other side of the country, from four hours with a connection to just over two hours on a single train. Kanazawa, on the Sea of Japan, escaped damage in World War II and counts historic geisha districts, former samurai neighborhoods, and one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens as attractions. Before the train’s debut it was mostly a beloved destination for domestic tourists, but the E7 Shinkansen is finally showing foreign visitors that there are even more postcard-perfect cities in Japan.
10. Amtrak Acela Express: 150 mph
America’s current entry in the world of high-speed train travel, the Amtrak Acela debuted in 2000 and hasn’t changed much since, with the exception of adding complimentary onboard Wi-Fi. Its network is restricted to the high-speed rails of the “Northeast Corridor” connecting Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C., and traveling the entire length one-way clocks in at around seven hours due to some speed and infrastructure limitations along the way. By 2020, the west coast will have its own equivalent as Phase One of the California High-Speed Rail project connects San Francisco and Los Angeles with travel time of two hours and 40 minutes thanks to speeds up to 220 mph.