Fastest Train in the World

For over 200 years trains and rail travel changed very little. New lines were built and trains travelled on them to and from stations. Sure, speed has increased, with steam engines making way for petrol ones, and those replaced by electric varieties, but fundamentally, there has been little innovation in the field.

Compare the evolution in the car or aviation industries in Just the last 100 years, and suddenly this becomes more obvious; think of the Wright brothers’ biplane to the F-35 Lightning II – the technological advancement is mind boggling.

Excitingly though, with the turn of the first decade of the 21st century, there promises to be a revolution in the field of rail travel. Driven by a need for cheaper, faster and more environmentally friendly forms of travel, the rail industry suddenly finds itself in the spotlight once more, with new designs, technologies and infrastructures aiming to radically overhaul the industry. From novel network structures, to tilting train engineering and on to electronic, fully automated control systems, rail travel is evolving faster than a runaway express. So it’s ail-aboard as we run through some of the speediest and most innovative rail tech currently on the market as well as what’s in the pipeline.

Fastest Train in the WorldMoving Platforms

Britain’s leading transport designer has unveiled a next-gen concept for an interconnected rail network.

Moving Platforms is a brand-new concept for the future of rail travel. Designed by Paul Priestman – creator of the Mercury high-speed concept train – the idea is based on a completely joined-up rail network that allows passengers to transfer from local trams to high-speed trains without ever stopping.

The system works as follows. A network of high-speed trains (like that of the Japanese Shinkansen) runs continuously on a nationwide level. This network runs via major cities and key commuting destinations, carrying many passengers at high speeds. However, as each of these trains passes by a destination, rather than pulling into a station and stopping to let off and let on passengers, it instead merely slows down a little.

Moving PlatformsAs the high-speed train slows, a local lower-speed tram draws alongside it, temporarily matching its speed. Next, the vehicles connect via a dock, before opening their doors to allow passengers to transfer from one to the other. Finally, the train and tram separate again, and proceed on their separate lines, with trams stopping at local stations to allow passengers off the network.

Alstom AGV 14 – Fastest train in Europe

Fastest train in EuropeThe Alstom AGV is a bleeding-edge piece of kit, wrapping up many of the best technologies currently available into a train that can not only cruise at almost 360 kilometres (225 miles) per hour, but do so while delivering a 30 per cent energy reduction over its predecessor.

Indeed, although it boasts other features, speed cannot be overlooked with the AGV. Commercially the train is artificially limited to 354 kilometres (220 miles) per hour, but in a test undertaken by Alstom in April 2007, the AGV’s traction and bogie system (a chassis that carries the vehicle’s wheels) propelled a test model to a blistering 575 kilometres (357 miles) per hour, which today in 2012 has yet to be topped anywhere in the world. For a little perspective, that is a speed that would get you from London to Istanbul in just under five and a half hours.

This top speed comes courtesy of a water-cooled traction system capable of outputting 11,930 kilowatts (16,000 horsepower). This traction system is composed of multiple Onix 6.5 kilovolt IGBT power modules, a 3,600-volt power bus and, most intriguingly, a selection of in-bogie-mounted permanent magnet motors (PMMs). These magnetic motors are of the asynchronous type and are supplied with electricity via converters in partnership with a high-voltage switch. The motors are arguably key to both the improved top speed of the AGV as well as its huge reduction in energy consumption. This is because they are both lighter and more compact than previous versions, but also because they offer an improved power-to-weight ratio of over one kilowatt per kilogram in addition to sport-simplified ventilation circuits.

Alstom AGV 14Alstom AGV 14 specs

  • Operator: Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori
  • Formation: 14 cars per trainset
  • Capacity: 700
  • Body material: Aluminium
  • Total length: 252m (820ft)
  • Width: 2.75m (9ft)
  • Weight: 510 tons
  • Doors: 2 per side
  • Max commercial speed: 354km/h (220mph)
  • Traction system: Onix 6.5kV IGBT power modules, 3,600V power bus, PPMs
  • Power output: 12MW (16,000hp)
  • Electric system: 25kV AC, 50Hz overhead catenary
  • Power delivery: Overhead pantograph

CRH380A – Fastest train in the China

Fastest train in the ChinaThe CRH380A is one of the world’s fastest trains. Why? Well, a test run top speed of 513 kilometres (319 miles) per hour and artificially limited commercial top speed of 356 kilometres (221 miles) per hour certainly help, as does a maximum power output of a titanic 20,440 kilowatts (27,410 horsepower), but in reality it is due to the collaboration of a number of low-visibility yet integral state-of-the-art technologies.

Let’s start with the CRH380A’s aerodynamics and stability. A low-resistance, streamlined head delivers a nose resistance coefficient of less than 0.13 and allows a direct reduction in aerodynamic resistance, aerodynamic noise and aerodynamic lift over its CRH2A predecessor.

This is partnered with a new rigid, pressurised body – which keeps the pressure change rate inside the train at less than 0.002 kilograms per square centimetre (0.029 pounds per square inch) per second – and lightweight aluminium alloy body. Another system also reduces vibrations at high speed to ensure passengers get a smooth ride.

Traction and bogies follow suit. Each 380A is equipped with SWMB-400/ SWTB-400 bolster-less bogies, which have been totally redesigned to deliver a critical instability speed of 550 kilometres (342 miles) per hour and a derail coefficient of 0.34 at 386 kilometres (240 miles) per hour. The traction system uses Zhuzhou Electric YQ-365 motors and C111 converters, which are supported by a new powerunit configuration. The combination of both these technologies grants the train a 0-236 miles per hour time of seven minutes.

Lastly it’s worth mentioning braking and noise. The 380A utilises a regenerative braking system that, in optimal conditions, produces a feedback energy rate of 93 per cent. This means that with each stop a trainset makes, a substantial amount of electric power can be fed back into the electric grid to be recycled. Noise from braking procedures and general operation has reduced significantly too with the integration of sound-absorbing and insulating materials. These combine to deliver an average noise level of just 67-69dB in the driver’s cabin when travelling at 349 kilometres (217 miles) per hour. While this may seem unremarkable at first glance, it becomes more so when you consider that the CRH2A sported the same noise level when travelling at just 250 kilometres (155 miles) per hour!

Despite the 380A’s top speed being limited by a computerised control system, since its mainstream introduction in 2010, the train has had a dramatic impact, reducing commuting times between Shanghai and Hangzhou – which amounts to around 180 kilometres (111 miles) – from 1hr 18min down to just 45 minutes.

CRH380ACRH380AL specs

  • Operator: Chinese Ministry of Railways
  • Formation: 16 cars per trainset
  • Capacity: 1,066
  • Body material: Aluminium
  • Total length: 401m (1,317ft)
  • Width: 3.38m (11.1ft)
  • Height: 3.7m (12.1ft)
  • Doors: 2 per side
  • Max commercial speed: 356km/h (221mph)
  • Traction system: IGBT-VVVF inverter control
  • Power output: 20.4MW (27,410hp)
  • Electric system: 25kV AC, 50Hz overhead catenary
  • Power delivery: Overhead pantograph

Shinkansen N700 – Fastest train in the Japan

Fastest train in the JapanThe Shinkansen N700 is but the latest in a long line of super high-speed trains operated throughout Japan’s standard-setting Shinkansen rail network. Delivering commercial speeds north of 290 kilometres (180 miles) per hour, sporting an acceleration rate of 2.6 kilometres (1.6 miles) per hour per second and capable of carrying 1,323 passengers per trainset between Tokyo and Osaka in just 2hrs 25mins, the N700 is, without doubt, one of the best trains on the planet.

Speed comes courtesy of a traction system that consists of 56 305-kilowatt (409 horsepower) units and produces a total power output of over 17,000 kilowatts (22,900 horsepower); that is the equivalent power generation of 19 Bugatti Veyron Super Sports – the world’s most powerful road car. This raw power enables the N700 to cruise comfortably at a speed of 300 kilometres (186 miles) per hour, which is artificially limited down from its theoretical top speed of 330 kilometres (205 miles) per hour. The traction system also enables it to accelerate faster than any other trainset in its class on Earth, hitting 274 kilometres (170 miles) per hour in less than three minutes.

Indeed, it’s not just the fact that the N700 can reach such high speeds that makes it so cutting edge, but the fact that it does it so efficiently-and can maintain it over long periods of time. The key to the N700’s consistent cruise speed is its air spring-powered active tilting system, which allows the train to tilt up to one degree on either side. This body inclination enables the N700 to accelerate continuously at a constant rate even when traversing curves in the rail track. Thanks to this feature, the N700 sports a 0-270 kilometre per hour time of only 180 seconds-precisely 120 seconds faster than stock 700-series trainsets.

What is perhaps most remarkable about the 700 series, though, is its reliability and safety. First, the Shinkansen network runs across train tracks without obstacle (that is, there are no crossings), elevating the track when necessary to avoid things like roads. Second, the average delay of any 700 series across an entire year is staggeringly just 30 seconds. Third, and finally, throw in the fact that since 1964 the Shinkansen series of trains has not had a single fatality due to rail crashes, and it is easy to see why the N700 and the Shinkansen network as a whole is world renowned.

Shinkansen N700Shinkansen N700 specs

  • Operator: Japanese Railway Company
  • Formation: 16 cars per trainset
  • Capacity: 1,323
  • Body material: Aluminium
  • Car length: 25,000mm (984in)
  • Width: 3,360mm (132in)
  • Height: 3,600mm (142in)
  • Doors: 2 per side
  • Max commercial speed: 300km/h (186mph)
  • Traction system: 56 x 305kW (409hp)
  • Power output: 17.1MW (22,900hp)
  • Electric system: 25kV AC, 50Hz overhead catenary
  • Power delivery: Overhead pantograph