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High-Speed Passenger Trains, Including Maglev, Advance in China and Europe, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Train travel has long been an alternative to flying, but often not a viable one if you want to travel quickly between major cities that are relatively close to each other, due to airport security lines, check-in requirements and other delays.  A limited number of high-speed trains have been in use for decades in a few places, including France and Japan.  High speed trains are now changing the status quo in a growing number of locales, and new technologies are being developed.
After decades of research and testing, Maglev trains have entered the realm of popular use, albeit on a limited scale.  Thanks to powerful magnetic fields, these trains float 3/8” above their tracks.  Unhindered by rail friction, they can zip along at speeds up to 310 miles per hour.  In some cases, such trains may be the fastest way to provide transport between locations.
In Shanghai, a Maglev train serves passengers between the Pudong Airport and the City Center.  The 19-mile trip takes only about eight minutes.  While many are skeptical about the widespread adoption of such trains, once infrastructures are in place, traveling by Maglev train may eventually become a popular option for travelers.
In Japan, engineers are working on a Maglev system called electrodynamic suspension that utilizes super-cooled, superconducting electromagnets that levitate the train nearly four inches above a guideway.  The technology is earmarked for use in the Chuo Shinkansen project.  The train will run between Tokyo and Osaka by way of Nagoya and cost an estimated $100 billion.  The first phase may be completed by 2027, with a second phase finished possibly by 2045.  However, many question the need for the project due to projections that show Japan’s population is expected to drop from 127 million in 2013 to 105 million in 2045.  In addition, the route runs through mountainous terrain and would require the construction of numerous tunnels.  If completed, supporters believe that Japan could market its technology to other countries.

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     Of course, most of today’s high-speed trains are not Maglev, but instead take advantage of the latest advances in traditional train technologies.  China is leading the world in constructing new routes that utilize such trains.  For example, ultrafast trains now offer service between Beijing and Shanghai.  The trains feature first class seats that can lay flat, and a top speed of 236 mph, cutting the transit time to as little as four hours from the usual 12 hours.  China’s 1,428-mile route between Beijing and Guangzhou takes just eight hours, compared to the 20 hours taken by traditional trains.
The trains for China’s newest routes are manufactured by domestic firms like China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Industry (CSR) and China North Locomotive & Rolling Stock Industry.  Such firms got their start largely by partnering with leading Japanese, European and North American train makers, gaining access to advanced technologies in the process.  China’s new routes are part of an ambitious 25,000-kilometer mile network of high-speed rail to connect most major cities.
France’s Train a Grande Vitesse (TGV) has been providing high speed rail service since 1981.  Typical TGV trains, which are high speed, but not Maglev, travel at 180 miles per hour, but the company has tested trains at much higher speeds.  The successor to TGV trains is AGV (Automotrice a Grande Vitesse), which uses motors under the floors of passenger carriages instead of in separate locomotives at either end of the train and can reach a commercial speed of 222 mph.  Italian operator Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori (NTV) plans 25 AGV trains to be put into operation by the company.
In Spain, the AVE high-speed line runs between Madrid, Seville, Malaga, Barcelona and Valencia at speeds up to 192 miles per hour.  Rail passengers are enjoying quick service as well as departures and arrivals in urban centers rather than at outlying airports.  Growing numbers of Spanish passengers are choosing rail over air travel.  Spain’s state railway company, Renfe, expanded the country’s high-speed network in 2022, adding three new lines, including a 54-mile, 218-mph line between Venta de Banos and Burgos.  Another project, Basque Y, is expected to be completed in 2023.  It includes the 15.25-mile Base Tunnel under the Pajares Pass.  When complete, Spain will have 2,500 miles of high-speed rail, second only to China in total mileage.
New rules called the “fourth railway package” were expected to require all state-owned rail firms in the EU to open their tracks to rival companies sometime in 2020.  The rules open the door for small rail operators and will likely result in lower passenger fares, greater competition and new innovations.
Britain’s government-sponsored firm High-Speed 2 (HS2) is studying high speed service between London and Birmingham in an initial phase and further service to Manchester and Leeds in a subsequent phase.  Network Rail, which maintains and develops rail infrastructure, and the Association of Train Operating Companies are planning to increase capacity over the next 20 years.  In addition, London’s Thames-link route, general commuter lines and a number of central stations are undergoing a $9 billion expansion.  (See
The beneficiaries of new rail system investment will include European rail companies, which have significant expertise and experience, such as France’s Alstom, the UK’s Network Rail and Switzerland’s ABB.  However, Japanese firms will be competing fiercely for new railway design, construction and operations contracts.  China is rapidly developing its own manufacturing of rail cars, locomotives and related equipment.
Japan has been a long-term investor in train systems.  Its Shinkansen bullet trains form one of the fastest passenger transportation networks in the world, topping speeds of 220 mph.
Korea’s Korail has a high-speed network between its most populous cities, including Pusan, Seoul and Taegu.  The country’s first high speed train, the KTX, was built by France’s Alstom.  Korea also operates a domestically built high speed train, the KTX-Sancheon.  A third project, the Hemu430X, was commissioned to run between Busan and Daejeon in late 2015.

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