Train Travel: Past, Present, and Future!
Posted on: January 24, 2019.

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The history of train travel span over a hundred years, beginning from the steam-powered locomotives and wooden coaches of the 1800s. To think of trains as a vehicle of the past that would get outdated rapidly is only natural, given the rapidly progressing public transportation industry of modern times.

Today we have automobiles that will monopolize the personal transportation space, and commercial aircraft that can ‘nose through’ the sound barrier. But the increasing congestion of roadways, actually ‘signal’ (pun intended) that trains offer significant advantages found in no other transportation method and may actually be the future of travel.

Demand for fast and efficient modes of public or mass transportation that is also safe and affordable is escalating, as rapidly-depleting resources, climate change, and higher urban populations would be defining and governing environments across the globe in upcoming decades.

Evolution of modern railway infrastructure

The initial “bullet train” concept that countries have been improving upon, originally came through as high-speed railway (HSR), developed by Japan for the first time in the 1950s. Today, a variety of schematics and equipment help facilitate rapid transit for high-speed trains. However, track type and overall function still follow the standard guidelines today.

The “Maglev”—short for Magnetic Levitation—train concept has taken the high-speed rail industry by storm and has become its biggest viable technological competitor. Traditional passenger trains are no match to the superior levels of rail speeds that maglev cars are able to reach. Though maglev technology comes with its own drawbacks and limitations, it is also potentially more energy efficient than conventional trains.

Devising a successful means for “express transport” will be mandated by our lifestyles, moving forward in the near future, and the “Hyperloop” concept proposed by inventor Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, may be the best idea and most promising design in this space, conceived so far.

Speed limits of various train types

A reliable, proven design and decades of study, safety evaluation, and quality improvements have gone into the conception of traditional HSRs, and delving into its theoretical plan therefore becomes important, if advantages and disadvantages of the main technologies in use right now, are to be considered.

It was just prior to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics that the traditional HSR—the Shinkansen “bullet train”—which operates at a maximum speed of 200 miles per hour, was unveiled by Japan. Ever since, construction of high-speed rail networks became the focus of railway infrastructure in many other countries, at a time when maximum standard rail speed was limited to 120-160 miles per hour.

Today, the world’s largest modern railway network belongs to China—a nation that fully embraced high-speed rail development—after opening its first commercial line in 2008. The Harmony CRH380A that debuted in 2010 and shuttles passengers at 236 miles per hour from Shanghai to several other destinations, became the fastest non-maglev train in the world and the second fastest overall in 2016.

Variants of many models of luxury passenger trains has been deployed in Europe, Asia, and the Americas by Talgo—a Spanish manufacturing company specializing in luxury passenger trains—which recently revealed plans to implement a transit line across the Mediterranean region with destinations between Spain and France, and whose latest design reaches 240 miles per hour.

As a follow-up to the United Kingdom’s original High-Speed One (HS1)—“Channel Tunnel Rail Link” connecting London to the Channel Tunnel at 186 miles per hour—plans are being moved forward by the country for High-Speed Two (HS2)—a transit service from London to Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds, operating at 250 miles per hour—for partial opening by the year 2026.

With a maximum speed of 267 miles per hour the fastest train in the world, astonishingly, is China’s Shanghai Maglev.

So, will trains ultimately be the future of transportation?

Hyperloop’s promise of 700 miles per hour or more sounds pretty, made further convincing by the fact that the current fastest train in the world, China’s Shanghai Maglev has a top operational speed of only 267 miles per hour and supersonic passenger flight is yet to become a reality. But only after vacuum tube transportation (VTT)—a “vactrain” of theoretical top speeds ranging from 4,000 to 5,000 miles per hour—has been fully tested, successfully implemented, and thoroughly evaluated for quality and safety, will the dream of commercial express transport like the Hyperloop be realized.

To deny that our current trains do not have the likeliness to meet the growing demand for increased transit speed will be tough even for critics of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop concept, especially at a time when no other individual or company has even proposed a better concept. Subsequently, with several countries obviously considering the benefit of investing in their continued development, high-speed railways, without a doubt, will continue to remain, and evolve, as a popular transportation method.


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