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World Speed Survey 2001: Speeds improve, but no changes at the top

01 Oct 2001

Over 20 countries now operate passenger services at over 120 km/h, with 10 countries exceeding 150 km/h. In our biennial survey of the world's fastest journeys, Dr Colin Taylor finds there are no changes in the top slots, though TGV Méditerranée brings France closer to Japan's lead. Most changes lie in the 120 to 150 km/h range, where Norway enters the race with the first high-speed airport shuttle


WHEN THE late Donald Steffee compiled the first World Speed Survey in 1975 there were only 10 members in the 120 km/h club. As the 1990s gave way to the beginning of the third millennium, over 20 countries had at least one passenger train scheduled for a start-to-stop run between two stations at an average speed of 120 km/h or greater.

A century ago, there would have been none. It was not until 1935 that the 120 km/h threshold was first reached by a scheduled service with Germany's famous Fliegender Hamburger. The 124·3 km/h run between Hamburg and Berlin took 138min. Surprisingly, the same trip by the fastest service in 2001 takes 4min longer, although a two-car diesel trainset perhaps cannot fairly be compared to a full ICE set.

The author does not have access to any 1901 timetables, but in 1914 that same journey took 3h 14min, according to Bradshaw's Continental timetable. A 27% reduction in journey time over 87 years may not seem a great achievement, but Germany, like Britain, was in those days among the rail speed leaders. It still is, but the achievements of some other countries, proportionately, have been far greater over the same period.

Threshold raised

As notified in 1999, the threshold for Table I has this year been raised to 150 km/h, but for continuity and comparison 'runners-up' in the 120 to 150 km/h range are listed in Table III. While there are still over 20 countries with trains scheduled at 120 km/h or more, only 10 and the International category make it to the new threshold. A maximum of seven different point-to-point timings per country has been applied to Table I, but in any case the 150 km/h threshold now restricts some countries to only one or two entries.

Japan remains at the top, despite France moving closer with the opening of TGV Méditerranée allowing a Valence - Avignon TGV start-to-stop run at a mean speed of 259·4 km/h.

There is no change in the relative positions of league leaders Japan, France, Spain, Germany and Britain, with the International entries still between France and the rest. Japan's best performances are virtually unchanged, as are those for Spain, Finland and China. The introduction of Series 500 and 700 shinkansen trainsets has had no marked effect on Japanese schedules and, indeed, they are not distinguished in the public timetable.

The International entries show quite marked improvement, thanks largely to TGV Méditerranée and Thalys. Sweden and the USA show some faster schedules, as, surprisingly, does Britain, whilst Germany drops back slightly and Italy even further, losing 8th place to the USA.

With a dedicated high speed line now in place right across France from north to south, typically 1 h or more has been slashed between destinations on the Mediterranean coast and places further north, compared to timings in January. Average journey times between Paris and Marseille, Montpellier, Nîmes, Toulon, Nice, Béziers and Perpignan, for example, have been reduced by between 16% and 30%. Perhaps the best examples are Toulon - Paris, where the fastest run takes 87 min less than in January, and Paris - Marseille, where the mean saving is 80 min and the fastest 3 h schedules cut the previous best time by 30·8%. It is therefore in Table II - notable and interesting runs over 150 km/h - that some of the main improvements can be found.

More dramatic, however, is the record established on May 26 2001 (RG 7.01 p449) by a special non-stop Calais - Marseille run of 1067·2 km in 3h 30min, including a mean speed of 317 km/h over a measured 1000 km. Equally remarkable, and undoubtedly more significant to the traveller, is the fact that one can now leave Marseille by train after 17.00 and be in London the same day. TGV 5180 leaves Marseille at 17.15 and, with one change at Lille Europe, the traveller can reach Waterloo International by 23.43 (7h 28min with the time difference). Six months before, the traveller would have had to leave Marseille over 3 h earlier at 13.58 to reach London the same day. In 1914 a similar trip by the fastest service, though via Boulogne and Folkestone to London Charing Cross, would have taken 22h 27min. This two-thirds reduction in journey time is fairly typical of progress over the past 87 years, and not only in France. Further examples of improvements since 1914 are given in Table IV.

In Germany, a slight easing of schedules on the Hannover - Würzburg Neubaustrecke lowers DB's best performance by 2·4 km/h, but this is matched by slightly accelerated timings on the Hannover - Berlin route. We should note that the first entry of 193·8 km/h for Karlsruhe - Mannheim in the 1999 survey was made in error, the distance being wrongly given as 10 km too long.

Whilst the Hannover - Berlin Neubaustrecke is restricted to 250 km/h (and that only for some 153 km east of Wolfsburg), the best performances now match those of the earlier Neubaustrecken which have a permitted maximum of 280 km/h. Germany's best is now 190·4 km/h by the early morning ICE trains Theodor Mommsen and Alice Salomon between Stendal and Wolfsburg.

The decline in British performances noted by Peter Semmens in our 1999 survey does not appear to have been arrested, in spite of a 182·8 km/h timing by the Tees Tyne Pullman. 'Marking time' might be the kindest description of Britain's current situation. Chaos might be more accurate, but one is reminded of the old British saying 'we'll muddle through'.

There is no doubt that the derailment at Hatfield and the earlier collisions on the Great Western main line have done nothing to help Britain's position in the world speed league. Although the subsequent Great Heck accident was not the railway's fault, it did not help. In 1977, Britain held second place. How are the mighty fallen!

In some other countries too there appears mounting evidence that aspects of competition policy, open access regimes, and horizontal or vertical separation of railway functions are not conducive to efficient and co-ordinated operations. Sometimes the scene is reminiscent of two children playing with a toy train set, each winding up their own loco and setting them off in different directions on a single-track layout.

Sweden's summer timetable for July and August shows a few accelerated timings. The non-stop Stockholm - G?€?teborg run, missing from the earlier summer timetable, is restored with a creditable 159·1 km/h average.

The atypical 20min Piacenza - Parma timing of Eurostar Italia 9325 has disappeared, along with the train itself, and a 94min timing between Roma and Firenze SMN by Eurostar 9058 now takes the lead, but Italy drops slightly to fall behind the USA.

The AcelaExpress services introduced last year are now showing their mettle, with the best US timing now topping 160 km/h. A 2h 30min New York - Washington run averaging 144·7 km/h with two intermediate stops compares with the previous best of 137·4 km/h by Metroliner 202 in 1995. North of New York, although the timings to and from Boston have been cut from 5h to 3h 30 min, there is no point-to-point timing much over 120 km/h - even where 240 km/h running is permitted. On the 121 km between New York and New Haven, the best timing of 1h 22min is only 8min less than half a century ago.

Rise and fall

In the 120 to 150 km/h range there is a confusing shuffle for placement, with the entry of Norway and Iran, and the departure of Ireland. Russia too drops back a little despite recent rolling stock innovations. Israel and Poland increase their best speeds but lose in placing, while Morocco with an 8 km/h speed increase displaces Switzerland, Saudi Arabia and Poland to reach 19th place. The entries for Denmark, Canada, Hungary and Switzerland are unchanged.

The most fascinating newcomer is Norway, and for two reasons. First, the opening of the Gardermoen airport link and the Romeriks tunnel brought Norway from relative obscurity (38th place in 1997) right into the top 10 late in 1999, with a speed over 150 km/h between Lillestrøm and Gardermoen. Although not evident in available timetables at the time of the 1999 survey, this achievement was pointed out by Erik Hardeng (RG 12.99 p768). Secondly, this is the first time an airport service has featured in Table I. Britain's Heathrow Express gained a mention in our last survey but never merited inclusion in the league table.

The Gardermobanen line consists of a 14 km tunnel between Oslo and Lillestrøm, followed by a new double-track line between Lillestrøm and Gardermoen Airport. When opened, the line speed was set at 210 km/h. According to Terje Bulling, Technical Director of Flytoget AS which operates the line, there are two train types capable of running at 210 km/h in Norway, the three-car Class 71 Flytoget and the four-car tilting Class 73 Signatur intended for longer-distance travel. However, the top speed for both types has been cut to 160 km/h because of problems with excessive wheel wear through increased speed on existing lines.

In consequence the schedules for both Signatur and the airport express have been eased. In 2000 Signatur achieved 151·2 km/h between Lillestrøm and Gardermoen, now taking 1 min longer to cover the 30·2 km at a start-stop speed of 139·6 km/h to bring Norway into 14th place in the world league. The maximum speed is expected to return to 210 km/h in 2002.

Israel entered the 120 km/h+ league in 1999, and has firmed its position, increasing the best performance on the Tel Aviv - Haifa route from 126·6 to 132·5 km/h, despite serving a new station at Tel Aviv University. Israel Railways is quite a success story, with passenger traffic greatly increasing and plans for new and longer routes.

In Portugal, despite potential for the new tilting Alfa Pendular trains introduced on the Porto - Lisboa main line to lift inter-city speeds, no scheduled runs at over 120 km/h have yet appeared. The policy seems to be to provide regular fast services linking major intermediate stops rather than one or two almost non-stop runs as featured by some Alfa expresses a few years ago. Alfa Pendular services with intermediate stops have cut the previous 3h 30min to 3h 15min but no point-to-point timing is more than 111 km/h, compared to a non-stop run at 115·2 km/h between Vila Nova de Gaia and Lisboa in 1997.

The future

There are currently many developments at various stages of planning or construction, such as more tilting trains, Balkan Talgos, and Linx trains on the Nordic Triangle (RG 7.00 p428), but we will have to await future surveys to see if these and other innovations bear fruit in the timetables. In China, in spite of the upgrading of the Zhengzhou - Wuhan section of the Beijing - Guangzhou line and a special run which achieved 239·7 km/h (RG 8.00 p480), the timetables do not yet show improvements in regular performances.

Iran ordered express DMUs in late 2000 that are due to be introduced in 2003, yet in 1975 it had what Donald Steffee called 'a fleeting moment of glory' as only the third country to schedule trains at over 160 km/h in regular service. Since 1976, no Iranian trains have exceeded 120 km/h between successive stops, but an apparent 133·7 km/h run which escaped our notice in 1997 is now included in Table III.

Further development of high speed networks in the next two years is confidently expected in Spain, perhaps China, Russia, Poland and even Britain, where there are plans for a 225 km/h line speed on the West Coast Main Line by 2002-03. South Korea hopes to have 60% of its high speed Seoul - Taejon - Taegu route completed by December this year.


As always, thanks are due to several correspondents for their valuable assistance. Special mention must be made of Dr Bernard Porcher of France, Andrzej Massel of Poland, José Ramón Su? rez Munoz of Spain, Harel Even of Israel Railways, John Lille-Maehlum of Norway, officials of DB and SNCF and last but far from least, Brendan Fox, Peter Bass and John Potter of Thomas Cook

  • CAPTION: Norway's Signatur tilting EMUs share that country's high-speed honours with the Gardermoen airport trains

Table I. Fastest start-to-stop runs at 150 km/h or more with advertised trains between different station pairs

TABLE: Country & Train From To Distance Time Speedspeed limit km min km/h

Japan 15 Nozomi Hiroshima Kokura 1 192·0 44 261·8

300 km/h 16 Nozomi Okayama Hiroshima 1 144·9 34 255·7

Nozomi 501 Shin Osaka Okayama 160·9 39 247·5

15 Nozomi Shin Osaka Hakata (Fukuoka) 1 553·7 137 242·5

Nozomi 29 & 31 Shin Kobe Okayama 128·3 32 240·6

6 Komachi Morioka Sendai 171·1 43 238·7

6 Komachi Tokyo Omiya Sendai 1 294·1 75 235·3

France TGV 5102 Valence TGV Avignon TGV 129·7 30 259·4

300 km/h TGV 6119 Paris Lyon Avignon TGV 657·0 156 252·6

TGV 6109 Paris Lyon Aix-en-Provence TGV 730·8 174 252·0

TGV 6171 Lyon St Exupéry Aix-en-Provence TGV 289·4 69 251·7

8 TGV Marseille St Charles Paris Lyon 1 750·1 180 250·0

3 TGV Roissy Charles de Gaulle Lille Europe 203·4 49 249·0

3 TGV St Pierre des Corps Massy TGV 1 206·9 50 248·3

International Thalys Soleil Brussels Midi Valence TGV 831·3 206 242·1

Thalys 9947 Marne-la-Vallée Brussels Midi 315·3 84 225·2

Thalys 9414 Brussels Midi Paris Nord 313·4 84 223·8

Eurostar 9055 Paris Nord Ashford 400·7 115 209·0

Eurostar 9074 Ashford Marne-la-Vallée 403·1 122 198·3

5 Eurostars Lille Europe Ashford 175·4 59 178·3

3 Eurostars Paris Nord London Waterloo 494·5 170 174·5

Spain 2 AVE trains Madrid PAtocha Sevilla 1 470·5 135 209·1

300 km/h 6 AVE trains Madrid PAtocha Ciudad Real 170·7 49 209·0

13 AVE trains Madrid P Atocha Córdoba 343·7 99 208·3

8 AVE trains Sevilla Córdoba 126·8 39 195·0

6 AVE trains Puertollano Córdoba 134·3 42 191·9

5 AVE trains Puertollano Ciudad Real 38·7 14 165·9

6 Alaris trains Valencia Albacete 212·3 84 151·6

Germany 2 ICE trains Stendal Wolfsburg 76·2 24 190·4

280 km/h 7 ICE trains Fulda Würzburg 93·2 30 186·4

ICE Breisgau G?€?ttingen Hannover 99·4 32 186·4

10 ICE trains Kassel Wilhelmsh?€?he Fulda 1 90·0 29 186·2

2 ICE trains Wolfsburg Berlin Zoo 180·6 60 180·6

Theodor Mommsen Berlin Spandau Stendal 93·3 31 180·6

7 ICE trains Hannover Hbf Berlin Spandau 243·3 81 180·2

Great Britain Tees-Tyne Pullman York Stevenage 259·0 85 182·8

201 km/h Scottish Pullman London King's Cross York 303·4 102 178·4

1 IC225 Doncaster Peterborough 128·1 44 174·7

Newcastle Pullman York Peterborough 180·5 63 171·9

Yorkshire Pullman Stevenage Grantham 125·4 44 171·0

1 IC225 Stevenage Doncaster 206·6 73 169·8

11 IC trains London King's Cross Peterborough 122·9 44 167·6

Sweden X2000 436 Sk?€?vde S?€?dertälje 277·0 96 173·1

200 km/h X2000 433 Katrineholm Herrljunga 243·6 85 171·9

5 X2000 Katrineholm Sk?€?vde 179·3 63 170·8

X2000 442 Alingsås 2 Katrineholm 278·5 98 170·5

X2000 427 Stockholm Syd-Flemingsberg Sk?€?vde 297·0 105 169·7

X2000 421 Hallsberg Falk?€?ping 144·2 51 169·6

X2000 405 Stockholm Alingsås 3 411·2 146 169·0

USA 9 Acela Expresses Baltimore Wilmington 1 110·1 40 165·1

240 km/h Acela Exp 2154/2155 Trenton Newark NJ 1 78·0 29 161·4

Acela Exp 2180/2182 Philadelphia Newark NJ 3 129·6 51 152·5

8 Acela Expresses Philadelphia Wilmington 1 50·6 20 151·8

Italy Eurostar 9458 Roma Termini Firenze SMN 261·0 94 166·6

250 km/h Eurostar 9424 Roma Termini Arezzo 198·7 75 159·0

Finland Pendolino S126 Salo Karjaa 53·1 21 151·7

200 km/h

China 4 Fex 'G' trains Guangzhou Dong Shenzhen 139·0 55 151·6

200 km/h

1. Runs in both directions 2. Stops to take up only 3. Stops to set down only

Table II. Other notable or interesting runs at 150 km/h or more

TABLE: Country Train From To Distance Time Speed Stops km h min km/h

France TGV 6209 Paris Lyon Nimes 689·1 2 55 236·3 0

International Thalys Soleil Brussels Midi Marseille St Charles 1 054·3 4 31 233·4 2

France 2 TGV Paris Lyon Montpellier 1 739·4 3 15 227·5 0

Japan Nozomi 1 Tokyo Hakata (Fukuoka) 1 069·1 4 49 222·0 6

France TGV 9864 Marseille St Charles Lille Europe 966·1 4 28 216·3 4

Japan Yamabiko 14 Morioka Tokyo 496·5 2 20 212·8 1

France TGV 6174 Les Arcs-Draguignan Paris Lyon 885·1 4 16 207·4 0

France TGV 6205 Paris Lyon Perpignan 899·1 4 45 189·3 2

France TGV 5372 Marseille St Charles Rennes 1 110·9 6 09 180·6 6

France TGV 5322 Nantes Marseille St Charles 1 132·8 6 22 177·9 6

France 2 TGV Paris Lyon Nice Ville 1 191·1 7 12 175·7 4

International Thalys Soleil Marseille St Charles Amsterdam CS 1 289·3 7 23 174·6 7

France TGV 9864/5 Nice Ville Lille Europe 1 191·1 7 12 165·4 10

Japan 3 Yamabiko Akita Tokyo 1 624·5 3 49 163·6 3

Sweden X2000 403 Stockholm G?€?teborg 456·2 1 52 159·3 0

International TGV 9864/5 Nice Ville Brussels Midi 1 279·3 8 05 158·3 11

International TGV 61744 Ventimiglia Paris Lyon 1 008·1 6 24 157·5 7

1. Runs in both directions

Table I. Countries recordinng fastest start-to-stop runs at between 120 and 150 km/h with advertised trains

Country Train From To Distance Time Speed

km min km/h

Denmark Lyntog 6 Odense Høje Tåstrup 145·0 60 145·0

Canada Metropolis Dorval Toronto 519·5 221 141·0

Norway Signatur Lillestrøm Gardermoen 30·2 13 139·6

Iran Express 25 Damghan Semnan 136·0 61 133·7

Hungary 3 Eurocity Hegyeshalom Gy?€?r 47·0 21 134·3

Russia ER 200 St Petersburg Moscow 649·9 293 133·1

Israel 6 IC3 DMUs Hof Ha-Karmel Tel Aviv University 1 81·7 37 132·5

Morocco Angade Express Mohammedia Rabat Agdal 63·0 29 130·3

Poland 9 trains Warszawa Centralna Zawiercie 253·2 117 129·8

Switzerland 4 Cisalpino Montreux Sion 1 68·0 33 123·6

Saudi Arabia Trains 1 & 5 Hofuf Riyadh 310·0 153 121·6

1. Runs in both directions

Table IV. Some proportional changes in fastest journey times since 1914

TABLE: Between 1914 2001 reduction h min h min %

Paris - Nîmes 15 59 2 55 82

Madrid - Sevilla 11 40 2 15 81

Marseille - Paris 11 50 3 00 75

Les Arcs - Paris 15 46 4 16 73

Paris - Lyon Perrache 6 56 2 06 70

G?€?teborg - Stockholm 8 54 2 52 68

Marseille - London 22 27 7 28 67

Paris Nord - Brussels Midi 3 55 1 24 64

Ventimiglia - Paris 17 46 6 24 64

Roma - Milano 10 55 4 30 62

Paris - Bordeaux 6 44 3 00 55

St Petersburg - Moscow 9 57 4 53 51

London - Edinburgh 8 15 4 09 50

London - Paris 6 30 3 15 50

Berlin - Hannover 3 30 1 48 49

K?€?ln - Frankfurt 3 52 2 14 42

Berlin - Hamburg 3 14 2 22 27

Notes on the tables

Data for the tables in this survey is taken mainly from the Thomas Cook European and Overseas timetables, supplemented where possible from railway public and, in some cases, working timetables. One-off special runs and excursions are not included: for inclusion a train must be regularly scheduled, even if only weekly or only during certain months. Timings for conditional ('as required') stops are not included, but regular 'restricted' stops (set down or take up only) are.

Distances are actual route-km (not tariff-km) to the nearest 0·1 km. Some are rounded from more exact figures and thus some speeds in the tables may not correspond exactly. Dwell time at destination stations is deducted from the departure time when this is known, and in some cases an estimate has been made based on previously-available information.

Table I lists only the fastest scheduled services between different pairs of stations, up to a maximum of seven entries per country. Table II covers notable, accelerated or otherwise interesting runs, whether including intermediate stops or not and not necessarily covering the entire run.

Speeds improve, but no changes at the top

Over 20 countries now run timetabled services at greater than 120 km/h, with 10 countries exceeding 150 km/h. There have been no changes in the relative positions of the top slots in our regular biennial survey of the world's fastest timetabled point-to-point journeys, though TGV Méditerranée brings France closer to Japan's lead. In the 120 km/h to 150 km/h range Dr Colin Taylor finds a number of changes, such as high speed newcomer Norway with the first service other than an inter-city train to be included in this category

Les vitesses s'améliorent, mais pas de changements sur le podium

Désormais, plus de 20 pays affichent des services commerciaux à des vitesses supérieures à 120 km/h, les 150 km/h étant même dépassés dans dix pays. Dans notre tour d'horizon biennal analysant les meilleures vitesses commerciales de gare à gare enregistrées dans le monde, il n'y a pas de modifications du classement parmi les meilleurs. Toutefois, le TGV Méditerranée met la France plus proche du Japon, qui reste leader. Dans la fourchette des 120 à 150 km/h, Colin Taylor relève un certain nombre de changements, comme l'émergence de nouveaux venus dans le monde de la grande vitesse; ainsi, la Norvége fait son entrée dans cette catégorie, avec un premier service autre qu'un train intercity

Höhere Geschwindigkeiten, aber keine Veränderungen an der Spitze

Mehr als 20 Länder haben fahrplanmässige Reisezüge mit Durchschnittsgeschwindigkeiten über 120 km/h, und 10 davon übertreffen sogar 150 km/h. Es gab keine Veränderung der Rangfolge an der Spitze in unserer regelmässigen zweijährigen Untersuchung der schnellsten planmässigen Punkt-zu-Punkt-Routen, obwohl der TGV Méditerranée Frankreich näher an das führende Japan heran bringt. Im Feld zwischen 120 km/h und 150 km/h findet Dr Colin Taylor eine Reihe von Wechseln, wie den Hochgeschwindigkeits-Neuling Norwegen, wo erstmals ein nicht-Intercity-Zug in die Liste aufgenommen werden konnte

Las velocidades mejoran, pero sin cambios en la cima

M? s de 20 países ofrecen servicios regulares a velocidades superiores a los 120 km/h, y 10 de ellos sobrepasan los 150 km/h. No ha habido cambios en la parte superior de nuestra clasificación relativa bianual en la que se ofrece una encuesta de los trayectos de punto a punto regulares m? s r? pidos, pese a que TGV Méditerranée acerca a Francia un poco m? s a la posición de liderazgo que detenta Japón. Dentro de las velocidades de 120 a los 150 km/h, el Dr Colin Taylor encuentra una serie de cambios, como por ejemplo la nueva entrada de Noruega, país que cuenta con el primer servicio que no es un tren intercity incluido en esta categoría