Over the past few decades, train speeds have been steadily increasing. Many trains today can travel faster than helicopters, and some can even go faster than small airplanes. Countries have taken advantage of these technological advances and built high-speed railways in order to transport people and goods between major cities.
According to the International Union of Railways (UIC), a highspeed train is one that travels at a speed of over 200 kilometers per hour. Most high-speed trains travel at speeds ranging between 250 and 300 kilometers per hour. They were originally introduced to win back travelers who were switching over to airplanes. Nowadays, high-speed train networks can be quite expensive to build, but once complete they can make a big contribution to a country's economic development. In fact, high-speed trains are thought to be more energy efficient and less damaging to the environment than using cars and highways to move people around.
The very first modern high-speed rail line was built in Japan in 1964, just in time for the Tokyo Olympics. It was called the Tokaido Shinkansen, and it linked Tokyo and Osaka. The train was capable of reaching speeds of over 256 kilometers per hour. Then in 1977, Europe got its very first high-speed train in Italy, connecting Rome and Florence. Since then, high-speed rail networks have continued to expand across Europe and Asia, though they are still not popular in North America.
It's almost like new high-speed train world records are made to be broken. In 1996, Japan's Shinkansen set a new speed record of 443 kilometers per hour. In 2003, the German Transrapid train left the Shinkansen in the dust, hitting speeds of over 500 kilometers per hour. Transrapid didn't have very long to enjoy its victory. In 2007, the French company TGV stole away the crown for fastest high-speed train when it achieved staggering speeds of 574.8 kilometers per hour. Yet the fastest train of all is the Japan Railways maglev train, which uses magnetic levitation to float above the rails. This train has hit speeds of up to 603 kilometers per hour.