High-speed rail networks may be a relatively new phenomenon, but for 20 countries worldwide they already form the backbone of the transport network. Although first introduced in Japan, high-speed rail was truly established in Europe during the 80s and 90s. Recently, technological advancements have pushed Asian countries up the ranks with regard to population served by the high-speed network, price per kilometer as well as operating and top speeds, cementing Japan in the number one spot.
Home to a famously extensive rail network, the infrastructural changes associated with switching from normal to high-speed rail have proven particularly complex in Europe. For example, the high-speed network in the United Kingdom is expected to remain under construction until 2026, which is perhaps what happens when your railway lines date back to 1825. Similarly, despite persistent interest and rumors involving California and the Eastern seaboard, the United States has yet to embrace high-speed train technology. This ranking exclusively compares trains meeting the official high-speed criteria. (To find out more, check out the FAQ.)
Now that the wheels are in motion nothing can slow down the high-speed revolution.
The ranking shows that countries in Asia are the runaway leaders when it comes to high-speed trains. Japan, with its incredible top speed record and high placing for population coverage and operating speed dominates the competition. Fascinatingly, in comparison only 1.62% of tracks in South Korea are considered High-Speed, but between them they cover more than 44% of the country’s population. It is also noteworthy that China, with more than 66,298 km of railways have covered 29.22% of them with high speed tracks; however, these lines only serve 10.7% of their population.
France and Spain manage to make the top 5 in the ranking. Some European countries manage to surpass Asian ones in certain aspects of high-speed train travel. For instance, when it comes to operating speed, Germany, Spain and France are equivalent with Japan, just behind China, but above South Korea. More than 20% of population of Austria and Spain have direct access to high-speed lines, followed closely by Italy and Germany with around 18%. Finally, despite its small size, approximately 12% of the Netherlands has access to high-speed trains.
Kilometers of High-Speed Rail Lines Worldwide
|Under Construction||13 868||2 867||483||200||0||17 418|
|Planning||14 287||11 044||3 340||4 080||1 749||34 500|
|Using||23 794||10 692||729||0||0||35 215|
|Total||51 949||24 603||4 552||4 280||1 749||87 133|
Focusing on Europe, there are some pretty exciting developments in the world of high-speed trains. France plans to reach 4,500 km of dedicated high-speed tracks, which would increase high-speed coverage of their rail network to 15.20%. Spain plans to build more than 2,700 km of new high-speed tracks, subsequently achieving an estimated 37.68% of high-speed rail coverage. Germany will increase the coverage of its railway network by 50%, with the construction of some 790 km of new high-speed track. Italy plans to expand its network with another 346 km of high-speed tracks, meaning they will reach a coverage of nearly 10% throughout the entire network.
The infographic below compares the top 15 top speed records and throws up some interesting results with the average operational speeds.
For High-Speed Trains in Europe
Behind Asia, Europe is the continent with the most high-speed train lines. Of these, some are among the busiest in the world, making travel between the city centers of some of the main European capitals possible in just a few hours. Which 10 high-speed train routes are the continent's most popular and what are their speeds?
|506km / 3h 18min|
|218km / 1h 51min|
|300km / 1h 22min|
|488km / 3h 21min|
|774km / 3h 17min|
|425km / 1h 57min|
|1075km / 6h 28min|
|659km / 2h 30min|
|580km / 2h 55min|
|282km / 1h 42min|