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Monday Train Blogging: Highest Speed

by DoDo Tue Nov 15th, 2005 at 02:19:55 PM EST

From the diaries

High-speed trains, that's no more just the Shinkansen Bullet Trains and the TGV. Trains capable of 300 km/h in regular traffic have now been constructed in five more countries1. As I'll show below, the actual title of the fastest is now a rather contentious issue – but in 2007, the train in the front of a TGV on the image below shall put the dispute to rest:

Photo from RailFanEurope.net

2007 will be kind of a year zero for European high speed railways, with several lines slated for opening2. But not only will f.e. Stratford International offer travellers to London's City a time competitive with flights to City Airport – new trains will raise speed standards.

While a TGV holds the absolute speed record with 515.3 km/h, that was reached under special conditions – noise, track wear and energy consumption mean much slower speeds in regular traffic. Still, the scheduled top speed of 320 km/h on a short section near Avignon (to test wear before the Est line opens with that speed) puts the TGV ahead. With this recent change, France also regained the 'blue ribbon' for the fastest start-to-stop average speed from Japan3.

Photo by André Werske from Die schnellsten Züge der Welt

But, the German ICE-3 trains (classes 403, 406), in which passengers can look forward right above the head of the train driver, while scheduled for 300 km/h, are allowed 330 km/h when late. The train shown at the beginning is an uprated version of the latter design (Siemens "Velaro E") for the Spanish railways (class S103). It will end the current duality in 2007 when it starts 350 km/h service between Madrid and Barcelona.

A few years later, Japan is set to regain the lead: a prototype for future 360 km/h service is now in testing (the E954/Fastech-360S). Maybe more important than increases in top speed are increases in acceleration/deceleration, in this too the E954 will be top. To make sure that it stops quickly during an earthquake, it was fitted with funny-looking aerodynamic brakes:

Photo from Postimees

A few words on economics

High-speed lines are expensive, thus usually state-built, and often with cost overruns. But unforeseen technical problems rank only as third among the causes. The first is delays (with organisatoral or financial causes; think of interests, repeated tendering, more work-hours to pay etc.). The second is silly cost-cutting measures that cripple traffic operation, or put off passengers4.

However, high-speed lines are a long-term investment – and on the longer term usually profitable. For example, the first Spanish line, opened in 1992 from Madrid to the then World Fair city Sevilla, was at first deficitary (after subtracting interests), and considered a silly prestige project. But it turned profitable in five years, and profits made up for initial losses in another five. (Then it was affected by the Aznar government caused mess around the opening of another line, but that's a separate story.)

That governments will take high-speed lines as excuse to not invest into the classic network is not the latters' fault. In fact, from an operator point of view, there is a benefit in separating off fast services. You see, there is no fast lane on a railway – so you either have to start a freight train looong before an express, or stop it often at stations.

(Note: I'll do a story on the Eschede train disaster in the near future. I will show that it was not a high-tech, but a lack-of-high-tech disaster.)

  1. The other five countries producing 300 km/h-capable trains are:
    • Germany (class 403, 406 [ICE-3] trains, see text)
    • Italy (class ETR500 trains; one just broke the Italian record while testing the new Turin–Novara line for its opening for the Winter Olympics: 350.8 km/h on 6 October, even before, 300 km/h Rome–Naples service starts next month)
    • Spain (class S102 [Talgo350] trains; one holds the Spanish record at 362 km/h, now in 200 km/h service, raised to 330 km/h in 2007)
    • South Korea (G7/HSR-350x prototype reached 352.4 km/h, 350 km/h series units will supplant French-built TGVs)
    • China ("China Star" prototype reached 321.5 km/h, in lower-speed service since August [ignore typos])
  2. The European high-speed lines (250 km/h or more) slated for opening in 2007:
    • Channel Tunnel Rail Link II (into London, UK)
    • Antwerp–Amsterdam–Rotterdam (Belgium/Netherlands)
    • Liège–German border [near Aachen] (Belgium)
    • TGV Est I (Paris to just beyond Metz, France)
    • Ingolstadt–Nürnberg (Germany)
    • St. Pölten–Linz (remaining parts; Austria)
    • Lötschberg Base Tunnel (Switzerland)
    • Milan–Bologna (Italy)
    • Florence–Bologna (Italy)
    • Córdoba–Málaga (Spain)
    • Madrid–Valladolid (Spain)
    • Ankara–Istambul (Turkey)
    Beyond Europe, lines are built or are at an advanced planning stage in Japan, China, Mexico, Syria and India, less certain in Russia and California/USA.
  3. The current country Top 10 of scheduled services, via Railway Gazette:
    1. France (Lyon–Aix) 263.3 km/h
    2. Japan (Hiroshima–Kokura) 261.8 km/h
    3. [international] (Brussels–Valence) 242.2 km/h
    4. Germany (Frankfurt–Siegburg) 233.5 km/h
    5. Spain (Madrid–Ciuad Real) 204.8 km/h
    6. Sweden (Falköping–Katrineholm) 190.6 km/h
    7. South Korea (Seoul–Taejeon) 189.8 km/h
    8. UK (Stevenage–Grantham) 181.1 km/h
    9. Italy (Rome–Florence) 166.6 km/h
    10. USA (Wilmington–Baltimore) 165.1 km/h
  4. This is like a bad joke about neoliberalism: state inefficiency achieved with private economy efficiency. What I mean is that in recent years, many European governments had the great idea to replace all those pesky bureaucratic railway directors with shiny new successful managers from completely different fields, people who haven't had the foggiest idea about the complexities of railway operation.

Previous Monday Train Bloggings:

  1. (Premiere/ modern Austrian trains & locos)
  2. Adventure
  3. Fast Steam
  4. Heavy Haul
  5. Forgotten Colorado
  6. The Hardest Job
  7. Blowback

I didn't know that FASTECH was that ugly (sigh).

When an earthquake of a modest magnitude hit Shinkansen in 2004, something like this (PDF) happened. Miraculously, nobody died.

Let's forget Shinkansen. This was the latest model in 1906:

I will become a patissier, God willing.

by tuasfait on Mon Nov 14th, 2005 at 09:59:36 AM EST
Ah, the other end looks prettier!

On the other hand, it seems to me aerodynamic requirements (stay on the tracks with strong side winds, noise reduction) will ensure that many newer trains will be ugly - the Talgo350 and the Chinese model have the duckbill shape, too.

BTW, I can't see your model 1906 photo!

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Nov 14th, 2005 at 11:22:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This looks like the one I saw on the newspaper. A problem unique in Japan is the terrain. There are many tunnels, and JR trying to do some tunnel aerodynamics while keeping the train shape rectangular (see the picture). On the other hand, JR West's Type 500 is round, but I do not find them very attractive.

I will become a patissier, God willing.

by tuasfait on Mon Nov 14th, 2005 at 08:12:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You forgot to mention the German Transrapid Magalev train, which operates in Shanhai China. It seems that the UK and US is interested in it too.

from the Transrapid brochure:

If you travel medium to long distances up to about 800 km, the overall journey in the Transrapid won't take longer than on an airplane (when the time to and from the airport as well as check-in are included). With its speeds of up to 500 km/h, the new railroad system is also faster than any other ground-based means of transport.

However, the real advantage is the good acceleration. As there is no mechanical friction loss, the distance required by the Transrapid to accelerate to 300 km/h from a standing start is just five kilometers.

Short distances between stations increase journey time only slightly and allow additional stops between cities. This makes the system more flexible than any other railroad and the Transrapid is also suitable for short distances.


video link:


"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819

by Ritter on Mon Nov 14th, 2005 at 11:10:48 AM EST
Yeah, the Transrapid is pretty amazing technology, but I... no, I better don't say anything about the Transrapid here; I'll do when I'll write about the Eschede disaster.

Anyway, per your request, the maglev supplement:

With maglevs included, the absolute record belongs to the Japanese MLX01 prototype with 581 km/h; tough to the more progessed, in-service German rival's credit, the MLX01 benefitted from a longer straight test track. If we include maglevs, the Transrapid Shanghai would also lead in scheduled top speed with 430 km/h, but not with average start-to-top speed (just around 236 km/h).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Nov 14th, 2005 at 11:32:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I decided differently - as I won't write about this two weeks from now, here are some points on why the Transrapid's said advantages aren't that big anymore.

The graph Ritter linked is a comparison with the ICE-1 - but the ICE-1 is overweight and has only locomotives at the two ends. The ICE-3 with its distributed power reaches 300 km/h in a little over half the distance, the Spanish S103 and (from what I heard) the latest Shinkansen versions (the FASTECH and the N700) outdo even that. Admittedly, that's still two-three times the Transrapid's.

Another issue is something rather close to my field, ride quality - with the spread of air springs (lately combined with actuators) in railway construction, a stability beyond that of gliding on magnetic fields was reached. But building a suspension system into a maglev is rather challenging (i.e. a complete redesign).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Nov 14th, 2005 at 11:57:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One of my early train memories is connected to what we called the "rote Blitz" - it must have been a ICE in the 50's or 60's and at that time one of the fastest trains, if I recollect correctly. The "rote Blitz" because it was red.

Though I do remember it in connection with the Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie - as a kid, about 6 years old I loved the sound of his name, not knowing who or what he was. Someone mentioned that he would drive by in the rote Blitz, coming from a state visit to Germany passing nearby were I lived. So I went to the bridge and waited for the train to passe by and of course for the emperor to waive to me :-). Well, the story ends sad, I didn't see the rote Blitz nore Selassie and when I came back home got scolded because they were in panic not knowing were I was.

by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Nov 14th, 2005 at 12:29:05 PM EST
I love this story :-)

(It reminds me of a summer holiday with my grandparents when I was about 8, when my also train-crazy+professional grandfather took me out around 4am to watch the night express, after which both of us were terribly scolded by my grandmother...)

Here is an image of the train, more at RailFanEurope.net (my main European source for images in the MTB series):

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Nov 14th, 2005 at 12:56:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the picture. I don't know what it is about grandmothers - I have a few memories too of my grandfather and me getting scolded by my grandmother, though they have nothing to do with trains, but staying to long at the airport watching airplanes and him of course having his beer an a Sunday morning. At that time it was a garden pub at the airport - hard to imagine today and you could drink something, sitting under trees, while watching the action, i.e an plane leaving or arriving every hour or two. Well, of course we were late for lunch.
by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Nov 14th, 2005 at 01:16:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're probably familiar with America's pathetic efforts in this area. All we have is the Acela, which runs in our only high-traffic train corridor, Boston to Washington. The train can get up to 150 MPH, but the track has a lot of curves and there has been a whole series of technical problems with the equipment.

Here's a picture, anyway.

There is also a high speed test track in a remote region of Colorado, left over from the energy crisis of the 1970s. It's still in use, but dedicated mostly to freight issues like equipment wearout and signaling.

by asdf on Mon Nov 14th, 2005 at 09:53:17 PM EST
Yep, I'm familiar with this mess. But others might not, so a few points:

  • A big crime was to not invest into building dedicated high-speed track on at least part of the corridor. It's not just that the Acela can't reach its top speed on 95% of the distance, but the big US freight trains on the same route cause delays, and a rough track surface, and thus also wheel wear and a rough ride.

  • The root cause of the technical problems were US safety requirements for passive crashworthyness, which had to be met by making the body much stronger and hence heavier than the French original (the Acela is a TGV spinoff). But this was bureaucratic idiocy: at low speeds, the TGV's active crashworthyness (crash zones like in cars) make up for less strength, while at high speeds, passive crashworthyness doesn't save you, it might kill you: instead of walls beding in, you have to fear hitting the next seat or the compartment wall at a speed a highway vehicle would hit a pedestrian.

  • True high-speed lines have been proposed at many places in the USA, getting rather far in three places, but Republican politicians fought against it. First in Texas, killed by Dubya. Then in Florida, where a referendum wrote it into the state constitution, was killed by Jeb Bush (in a long campaign of breaking the law and putting forth lies, ending with a second referendum on withdrawing finance - people CAN be fooled). The project still alive is the Californian one, but Schwarzenegger already made noises about wanting to widen highways instead (which was shown to be the worse alternative even on economy in several studies, but who cares).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Nov 15th, 2005 at 11:02:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, the rail speed record in the USA doesn't belong to the Acela - it belongs to Budd railcar M-497, which the New York Central fitted with two jet engines in 1966:

The image shows it while achieving the 183.85 mph (295.9 km/h) record on 23 July that year, unbeaten to this day. (But, tuasfait, I believe all Shinkansens are nice when compared with this...)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Nov 15th, 2005 at 11:13:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nice technologies, but generally theses investment are done to the expense of "snail" trains.
In France and Germany, these prestige trains are hiding the fact that the rest of the network is slowly rotting : less trains, less lines and no more connections, no price transparency, ...
by Hansvon on Tue Nov 15th, 2005 at 06:47:23 AM EST
Nice technologies, but generally theses investment are done to the expense of "snail" trains.

As I wrote, not really - at their 'expense' only in the sense that politicians will excuse their lack of investment in that field with high-speed rail, i.e. "see there, I spent x billions on rail".

From this railwayman's perspective, both are needed, high-speed networks and investment into the old network (mainlines AND branchlines).

BTW, you might be interested, I wrote a diary about my view on rail 'reforms' in the EU.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Nov 15th, 2005 at 10:39:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I once took the train from NYC to Washington and was surprised to learn that the departure boards only gave the time but lacked the information concerning the  platform. When I asked for the number at the counter all I got was funny looks and the explaination that the station was so BIG that it was impossible to make any reliable forecast. Did anyone make the same experience? Too BIG? To me it looked much smaller than Cologne Central Station.

"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819
by Ritter on Tue Nov 15th, 2005 at 03:06:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This has long been a peculiarity of Penn Station in NYC. For mysterious reasons, they only announce the departure platform at the very last instant.
by silence (very1silent AT yahoo.com) on Tue Nov 15th, 2005 at 05:17:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
With the delays, I could somehow understand if they can't announce arrival platforms... but departure platforms?... Maybe turnaround time is too short, or departure platforms are re-shuffled as a function of arriving trains, or they gave up and don't plan in advance at all.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Nov 16th, 2005 at 09:10:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Too BIG? To me it looked much smaller than Cologne Central Station.

Must have been the dark atmosphere.

Today's hyper-ugly Penn Station has 11+1 platforms with 21 parallel tracks. Köln Hbf only has 6 platforms (tough maybe wider ones) and 11 tracks.

Demolishing the old Penn Station is said to have been a first-order architectural crime - judging from the photos in the link, that appears to be true.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Nov 16th, 2005 at 09:44:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In Madrid, when they rebuilt the train station at Atocha they turned the kept the old station building as an annex to the new one, and turned it into a tropical garden. The advanced-purchase ticket counters is on one side of it. It's beautiful.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 17th, 2005 at 05:35:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've had some conversations with a station supervisor for the Long Island Rail Road at Penn Station.  He tells me that the higher-numbered tracks (in the States, what the British refer to as a "platform" is what we call a "track," they assign a different number to each platform face) the Long Island trains use are rigorously assigned, and commuters can literally stumble down their usual staircase to their usual seat without checking the departure boards.  Amtrak, which generally uses tracks 8-14, and New Jersey Transit, which uses the lowest numbered tracks including the stub tracks 1-4, tend to be somewhat more cavalier about assigning trains to tracks, in part because Amtrak interference with New Jersey Transit trains affects the latter's ability to anticipate the next move.  (Further complicating things, the two tracks in the tunnel to New Jersey belong to Amtrak.  At least two of the tracks under the East River belong to the Long Island.)

Elsewhere in the States, track assignments can be more predictable.  Metra in Chicago uses the same philosophy as the Long Island, and lots of harried commuters can get to their trains without looking.

If memory serves, the British are sometimes unpredictable about assigning tracks, er, platforms.  In my trips there, I encounter little knots of riders looking at the screens for the number to be posted.

Stephen Karlson ATTITUDE is a nine letter word. BOATSPEED.
by SHKarlson (shkarlson at frontier dot com) on Sun Nov 20th, 2005 at 12:57:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for this explanation! From what I heard, the British problem has similar causes - it came after privatisation, and the lack of coordination between multiple companies, while many track repairs caused many delays, led to this chaos.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Nov 20th, 2005 at 07:24:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Travelling by train is sometime so boring (not to me)...It's just to entertain the travellers:
- Train to Washington on plateform 1
People rushing on the next plateform
- Oh, no wait, it's on plateform 3...
- Can anybody says where the train to Washington is ?

We did this with a friend in a small station, but on 1st of April.

by Hansvon on Thu Nov 17th, 2005 at 04:34:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
:-)))) must have been a sight... hopefully SBB (or BLS or which one was it) lost no passengers due to this :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Nov 17th, 2005 at 09:55:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes both networks are needed, but at present time, it is impossible to build and maintain both. Switzerland is doing well only because it hasn't any plan for high speed train (if you except the Swissmetro, the very fast, > 500 km/h, underground train). It can just afford to slowly improving it's regular railway network (Bahn2000,Base tunnels, Pendolino).

You may also add to your diary that the State owned swiss railway (SBB/CFF/FFS) is not loosing money anymore :
+24.0 mio CHF in 2003
+42.6 mio CHF in 2004

by Hansvon on Thu Nov 17th, 2005 at 04:15:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, not 300 km/h, but the 250 km/h Cisalpino trains can be counted as high speed. They will be able to attain that speed on both NEAT lines and (if the signalling system is ready) the Mattstetten-Rothrist Bahn2000 line - which aren't mere improvements, but capacity increases by adding parallel tracks. And this in a country without far-from-each-other multi-million cities to connect like Paris and Lyons. Also, the costs of the Gotthard NEAT line are well beyond that of a non-Alpine 300 km/h high-speed line say between Zürich and Bern.

So all in all, I think you Swiss quite rightly spend as much money on both new and old railways as the Germans and French should have spent, too - yours is a model, the best model to follow. (To a lesser degree, Spain too.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Nov 17th, 2005 at 09:53:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I like the motorman's view available to first-class passengers on the German ICE trains.  But here's the grand champion of motorman's eye views.

Racine, Wisconsin, 28 September 1957.

More on this train here and here.

Stephen Karlson ATTITUDE is a nine letter word. BOATSPEED.
by SHKarlson (shkarlson at frontier dot com) on Sun Nov 20th, 2005 at 02:12:39 PM EST

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