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Watch out airlines! High-speed rail has you in its sights...

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Across Asia and Europe, high-speed rail is providing a competitive alternative to short haul air travel on many routes- both in terms of price and time.

According to research by the Journal of Advanced Transportation high-speed trains and air travel are generally competitive until you reach the 1,000-kilometre (621 mile) barrier, after which point flying is viewed as the superior option (particularly from the view point of time savings).
A rash of new technological developments are making high-speed rail ever quicker and cost-effective.
However, a rash of new technological developments are making high-speed rail ever quicker and cost-effective, meaning rail is likely to pose an ever more serious challenge to air travel- over longer and longer- in the coming decades.

High-speed rail is experiencing some of its largest growth in China where the development of new rail technology is being eagerly pursued and adopted by the country’s networks. A high-profile example of this is the Beijing to Shanghai route- one of the world’s busiest- which is now utilising the Chinese-built Fuxing high-speed train which features a top-speed of 218 miles per hour (351 kilometres per hour). At such a speed, the 775-mile trip is reduced to around 4 and a half hours.

An older example of high-speed rail’s competition with air travel is Japan’s Shinkansen trains dating from the 1960s. Speeds of close to 200mph make the journey between Tokyo and Osaka relatively brief at 2 and a half hours. This same route is served by both of Japan’s biggest airlines, which can complete the route in just 70 minutes. However, factor in the all-important ‘dwell time’ (time spend checking-in, passing through security and waiting in airport terminals etc) and high-speed rail comes out as the more convenient, and traveller-friendly, option.

The future: towards super-high-speed rail

As we have seen, the competition between high-speed rail and air travel is often close, with the differentiating factor dwelling on peripheral concerns such as dwell time.

However, new technological developments are leading to an age of ‘super-high-speed rail’ which could completely transform the existing dynamic in favour of rail.
The Shanghai maglev train in operation.
(The Shanghai maglev train in operation).

Whilst the world’s first magnetic-levitation, or maglev train, which can travel as fast as 267 mph (430kph) is currently in operation, Chinese engineers are researching future maglev trains that could travel at an incredible 373mph (600kph)- speeds that give rail a significant competitive advantage over rail travel.

China’s CRRC (China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation), which is behind plans for the new super-high-speed maglev train is aiming to have it ready by 2020. A tester track for the train is currently being built alongside a portion of the existing Beijing – Shanghai railway.

As trains close-in on air travel, train operators are chasing faster and faster speeds. In 2015, a maglev train in Japan reached a speed of 374mph, breaking a world record that had stood for 12 years. It’s unlikely that this particular train will be in operation until at least 2027 however, due to concerns around its commercial feasibility.

The future of super-high-speed rail is not confined to China however. CRRC is also spearheading projects in Australia, Southeast Asia, Iran, Mexico, Turkey, Thailand, Indonesia and Russia.

With 60 percent of the world’s population expected to live in urban centres by 2030, and air travel coming under scrutiny for its carbon footprint and capacity concerns, the future of long-distance travel increasingly looks like one in which rail will play a prominent part.

To find out how Fircroft can help your rail business or project with innovative workforce solutions that save you time and money, speak to us today.
Tags: Engineering
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Watch out airlines! High-speed rail has you in its sights... - Time to read 3 min
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