In 1964, Japan inaugurated the world’s first high-speed “bullet” train on the Osaka-Tokyo route, a distance of 247 miles. According to the International Union of Railways, there are more than 18,500 miles of high-speed rail (HSR) lines worldwide. That number will increase by 50 percent when current construction is completed; many more thousands of miles are planned and under consideration.
HSR is powered almost exclusively by electricity, not diesel. Compared to driving, flying, or riding conventional rail, it is the fastest way to travel between two points that are 100 to 700 miles apart and reduces carbon emissions up to 90 percent. Over time, its energy source is likely to get cleaner as renewables generate a greater share of electricity.
HSR is expensive and requires high ridership to break even. That is why only certain places in the world have sufficient population density to support HSR. China has by far the most HSR lines—more than 35 percent of the total—with Japan and Western Europe not far behind. Where adequate density exists, HSR can be an important component of a sustainable transportation system and bring vitality to city centers.
Technical summaries for each solution will be available May 1, 2017.