High-speed rail (HSR) is a type of passenger rail transport that operates significantly faster than the normal speed of rail traffic. Specific definitions by the European Union include 200 km/h (124 mph) for upgraded track and 250 km/h (155 mph) or faster for new track. In Japan, Shinkansen lines run at speeds in excess of 260 km/h (162 mph) and are built using standard gauge track with no at-grade crossings. In China, high-speed conventional rail lines operate at top speeds of 350 km/h (217 mph), and one Maglev Line in Shanghai reaches speeds of 431 km/h (268 mph). The world record for conventional high-speed rail is held by the V150, a specially configured version of Alstom's TGV which clocked 574.8 km/h (357.2 mph) on a test run. The world speed record for Maglev is held by the Japanese experimental MLX01: 581 km/h (361 mph).
The true HSR breakthrough started in Japan. In this densely populated country, they started planning the first dedicated high-speed line. The construction started in April 1959, and test runs in 1963 hit top speeds at 256 km/h (159 mph). And in October 1964, just in time for the Olympics, they opened the first Shinkansen, between Toyko and Osaka.
The Tōkaidō Shinkansen still is the world's busiest high-speed rail line. Up to ten trains per hour with 16 cars each (1,300 seats capacity) run in each direction with a minimum of 3 minutes between trains. Though largely a long-distance transport system, the Shinkansen also serves commuters who travel to work in metropolitan areas from outlying cities.
In Europe, high-speed rail started during the International Transport Fair in Munich in June 1965. The first regular service at this speed was the TEE "Le Capitole" between Paris and Toulouse.
Great Britain introduced Europe’s first regular above 200 km/h (124 mph) service, albeit with a small margin, and without building new lines.
In Continental Europe, several countries started to build new high-speed lines during the 1970s – Italy’s ‘’Direttissima’’ between Rome and Florence, Western Germany’s Hannover–Würzburg and Stuttgart–Mannheim lines, and France’s Paris–Lyon TGV line (LGV Sud-Est). The latter was the world’s fastest when it was fulfilled in 1983 (the Paris–Dijon partition was opened in 1981), with a maximum speed at 260 km/h (162 mph) and average at 214 km/h (133 mph).
France went on building an extensive high-speed network. In combination with the Belgian and British lines, the Paris-Lille-Calais line allowed to open the fist HSR international services: Paris-London (1994), London-Brussels (1994), (both via the Channel Tunnel) and Brussels-Paris (1995). Germany followed up with its own high-speed network, and after Germany was re-united in 1990, the Hamburg–Berlin line again became a mainline.
Spain’s first high speed line opened in 1992 between Madrid and Seville. As of December 2010, the Spanish Alta Velocidad Española(AVE) system is the longest HSR network in Europe and the second in the world, after China. Spain is building the largest HSR network in Europe: five new lines have been opened (Madrid-Zaragoza-Lleida-Tarragona-Barcelona, Córdoba- Malaga, Madrid-Toledo, Madrid-Segovia-Valladolid, Madrid-Cuenca-Valencia) and another 2,219 km (1,379 mi) are currently under construction.
China is the first and only country to have commercial train service on conventional rail lines that can reach 350 km/h (217 mph). China's high speed rail lines consist of upgraded conventional rail lines, newly-built high-speed passenger designated lines, and the world’s first high-speed commercial magnetic levitation (maglev) line.
Currently China has the world’s longest high-speed rail network with about 8,358 km (5,193 mi) of routes capable of at least 200 km/h (124 mph) running in service as of January 2011, including 2,197 km (1,365 mi) of rail lines with top speeds of 350 km/h (217 mph). The National High-Speed Rail Grid is composed of 8 high-speed rail corridors, four north-south corridors and four east-west corridors.
South Korean KTX high-speed rail, which runs on a dedicated line, became operational in April 2004, and was the third nation outside Western Europe to have high speed intercity service, after Japan and the US. The maximum speed of the KTX - which derives its technology directly from France's Alstom TGV- is 300 km/h, though the infrastructure is designed for 350 km/h (217 mph). A journey from Seoul to Daejeon that previously took around 90 to 120 minutes now takes only 49. Daily ridership is in the range of 85,000-100,000 passengers.
Taiwan High Speed Rail (abbreviated to THSR or HSR) is a high-speed rail line that runs approximately 345 km (214 mi) along the west coast of the Republic of China (Taiwan) from the national capital of Taipei to the southern city of Kaohsiung. For most of its length the line runs on viaducts or through tunnels with technology mainly based on Japan's Shinkansen system mixed with European standards and system components.
Services began on January 5, 2007, using trains with a top speed of 300 km/h (186 mph), which offer journey times from Taipei to Kaohsiung as short as 96 minutes. Ridership initially fell short of forecasts, but grew from fewer than 40,000 passengers a day in the first few months to over 100,000 passengers a day in 2010.