Speeds improve, but no change at the top

HIGH-SPEED TRAINS have cut the fastest journey times on some inter-city routes by over 80% since 1914, according to the latest biennial World Rail Speed Survey, published in the October 2001 issue of Railway Gazette International. The opening of France's TGV-Méditerranée line in June has brought the fastest Paris - Nîmes journey down to 2 h 55 min, compared to 15 h 59 min in 1914. Completing a coast-to-coast high-speed corridor stretching more than 1 000 km, it cuts the journey time between Marseille and London to 7 h 28 min; in 1914 it was 22 h 27 min!

However, despite this impressive achievement, France remains in second place overall. The world's fastest scheduled passenger trains are operated by the West Japan Railway, whose Series 500 shinkansen 'bullet trains' cover the 192 km (119.3 miles) between Hiroshima and Kokura in 44 min at a start-to-stop average speed of 261.8 km/h (162.7 mph). TGV Méditerranée does contribute the best French run: a 259.4 km/h (161.2 mph) sprint over the 129.7 km (80.6 miles) between Valence TGV and Avignon TGV stations.

Railway Gazette's unique survey of the world's fastest train services has appeared every two years since 1975. Compiled by Dr Colin Taylor from the University of Queensland, it involves a comprehensive analysis of the fastest advertised start-to-stop timings between many different pairs of stations throughout the world. In 1975 there were only 10 countries which operated scheduled passenger trains at an average of more than 120 km/h (75 mile/h). Today there are more than 20, and the threshold for our premier league has this year been raised to 150 km/h.

West Japan Railway has held the blue riband since 1997, when it overhauled France. The TGV family of French designed high-speed trains also holds third and fourth places. In third are the cross-border services, with the international Thalys Soleil service averaging 242 km/h between Brussels Midi and Valence TGV. Spain's AVE (Alta Velocidad Española) high-speed service between Madrid and Sevilla is fourth, with Germany remaining in fifth place, just below the 200 km/h average.

Despite the overall poor performance of Britain's railways in the past year, Britain still runs the world's sixth fastest trains. Great North Eastern Railway has accelerated its Tees-Tyne Pullman to an average of 182.8 km/h (113.6 mph) between York and Stevenage - marginally faster than the 180.2 km/h which GNER was offering in 1999.

The introduction of Acela Express high-speed tilting trains between Washington DC, New York and Boston has brought the USA's fastest timings above 160 km/h (100 mph) for the first time. One train now runs non-stop between Washington and New York in 2 h 30 min, at an average speed of 144.7 km/h (90 mph). As yet there are no really fast runs between New York and Boston, although much of the line has been rebuilt for a top speed of 240 km/h (150 mile/h).

For the first time, Railway Gazette's 2001 survey includes a dedicated high-speed airport rail service. Norway's Flytog trains between Oslo and Gardermoen Airport achieve a best timing of 139.6 km/h (86.8 km/h) despite technical problems which have lowered the top speed of the trains from 210 to 160 km/h.

World Rail Speed Survey 2001: The Top Table

Railways with at least one average timing above 150 km/h (93 mph).

Rank Country From To Distance (km) Speed (km/h)
1 Japan Hiroshima Kokura 192.0 261.8
2 France Valence TGV Avignon TGV 129.7 259.4
3 International Brussels Midi Valence TGV 831.3 242.1
4 Spain Madrid P Atocha Sevilla 470.5 209.1
5 Germany Stendal Wolfsburg 76.2 190.4
6 United Kingdom York Stevenage 259.0 182.8
7 Sweden Skövde Södertälje 277.0 173.1
8 USA Baltimore Wilmington 110.1 165.1
9 Italy Roma Firenze 261.0 166.6
10 Finland Salo Karjaa 53.1 151.7
11 China Guangzhou Dong Shenzhen 139.0 151.6

World Rail Speed Survey 2001: The Runners Up

Railways with an average timing between 120 and 150 km/h (75 and 93 mph).

Rank Country From To Distance (km) Speed (km/h)
12 Denmark Odense Høje Tåstrup 145.0 145.0
13 Canada Dorval Toronto 519.5 141.0
14 Norway Lillestrøm Gardermoen 30.2 139.6
15 Hungary Hegyeshalom Györ 47.0 134.3
16 Iran Damghan Semnan 136.0 133.7
17 Russia St Petersburg Moscow 649.9 133.1
18 Israel Hof Ha-Karmel Tel Aviv Univ. 81.7 132.5
19 Morocco Mohammedia Rabat Agdal 63.0 130.3
20 Poland Warszawa Cent. Zawiercie 253.2 129.8
21 Switzerland Montreux Sion 68.0 123.6
22 Saudi Arabia Hofuf Riyadh 310.0 121.6