Information published on 26 April 2018 in the UIC electronic newsletter "UIC eNews" Nr 596 - High Speed.

High Speed Rail today

  • High-Speed

The high speed network

The high speed network began its development in 1964 in Japan. Its extension, mainly driven by Japan, France, Spain, Italy and Germany, was slow until 2000. At this point an acceleration could be felt, but it was only in 2008 that, thanks to heavy investment by China, the scale of the whole network changed dimension.
Today more than half of all high speed lines are in Asia.

Some countries or regions, such as Belgium, the Netherlands and Taiwan, have completely finished building the extent of their high speed network. Some countries are continuing development but have already carried out the bulk of it, such as Spain, Italy, France, Germany and Japan. Some countries are still planning significant extensions, such as UK, South Korea and China. Some countries have just started developing and implementing HSR, such as Saudi Arabia, Morocco, USA and Russia. Finally, some countries plan to implement high speed rail in the future, such as several Eastern European and Asian states.

It is worth noting that not all high speed lines are run at the same speed. Several factors come into the explanation. Firstly, there is the distinction between the design speed and the operational speed. The most recent lines are designed to run at 350 km/h (and even 400 km/h), i.e. the infrastructure and the superstructure can withstand this speed. However, the maximum commercial speed (operational speed) may be lower than the design speed because the rolling stock is not suitable for it. The operational speed is determined by the certification process during which evidence must be provided that the rolling stock can successfully run on the line at the targeted speed plus 10%.

Secondly, some so-called high speed lines are designed for speeds lower than 250 km/h. This can be due the mix of traffic or the network consistency. If the infrastructure is to be run by freight and passenger trains or by long-distance and regional trains, the line capacity is increased by reducing the maximum speed. In addition, some lines are sometimes built predominantly to provide networks with consistency by, for example, linking different sections. In this case the maximum speed may be lower.

The outcome of this is that the global high speed network is not homogeneous in terms of speed as shown in the last graph of this page.