What is a High Speed Train?

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  • Written By: Harriette Halepis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 February 2020
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A high speed train is a type of passenger train that operates at noticeably faster speeds than regular trains. Most high speed trains carry passengers, though some of these trains also carry cargo. The speed at which a high speed train travels can vary from country to country according to train speed regulations. These trains have a long and interesting history that began somewhere in the 1800s.

Before the invention of the automobile, trains were the preferred method of transportation. Trains crossed entire countries, transporting passengers from one location to the next. When the automobile arrived during the 20th century, the train was largely pushed aside. The automobile was faster and more efficient than the train was, which prompted people to forget all about train travel.

In 1939, the Italian Elettro Treno Rapido (ETR) brought passengers from Milan to Florence at record-breaking speeds. This invention put trains back into the minds of people who were starting to discover travel by airplane. Unfortunately, the world crisis that was World War II put a stop to all high speed train travel. The concept of a high speed train was not picked up again until 1957, but this train was a Japanese invention.


The Romancecar 3000 SSE was created by the Odakyu Electric Railway in Tokyo. This train allowed passengers to travel at quick speeds between Tokyo and Osaka. The success of this train spawned the invention of the Tōkaidō Shinkansen in 1964 making Japan the top high speed train manufacturer. Today, high speed trains can be found throughout the world, though they are most popular in Europe.

Following the 1950s, Japan and many European countries created numerous high speed trains in order to meet passenger demand. Trains proved to be a quick way to travel from destination to destination, and people within these parts of the world were happy to use public transportation daily. Surprisingly to many, North Americans weren't quite as quick to hop aboard the high speed train craze.

After World War Two had ended, Japan and various European countries spent a lot of money rebuilding railways that were destroyed during the war. Wary of railroad tracks and public transportation, North American countries spent most of their time building new highways and interstate systems. In addition, the 1950s and 1960s were big years for automobiles in North America.

Car manufacturers were inventing cars and trucks that North Americans loved, and consumers enjoyed driving and owning these expertly crafted machines. This is precisely why North America is dotted with complex roads, while Europe and Japan enjoy extensive high speed train routes. To this day, many North Americans prefer to drive to their destinations, while Europeans tend to prefer riding the high speed rail.



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