Superfast trains to the UK?

Monday 20th April 2015

BBC News has recently reported on high speed trains and compared the difference between their use in the UK and China.

The BBC reports that despite having its first stretch of high-speed rail track in 2007, the UK has not expanded beyond the same 68-mile stretch of track. In contrast, China now has more than 7,450 miles of high-speed rail track and continues to make vast strides in high-speed rail.

China plans to build a $242 billion high-speed rail link to Moscow. The expansion of its high-speed rail infrastructure is something the UK could learn from.

The latest revolution in rail technology is evacuated tube technology (‘ETT’), combined with magnetic levitation (‘maglev’) technology.

Sounds complicated. That’s because it is. ETT essentially is a proposed method of running trains through vacuum tubes:  if you want to go faster than conventional high-speed trains, the way to do so is to beat air friction by using vacuum tubes and raising the trains off the tracks using maglev technology. The BBC reports that these ETT trains could reach up to 1,000mph, four times the top speed of conventional high-speed trains.

China is testing the technology but it appears to have a long way to go. So far, the 6 metre vacuum train tunnel has only allowed a train to reach speeds of 15.5mph. The Americans may have more success; an overground version will be trialled in California next year.

Japan is leading the way with maglev technology. It plans to build a line between Tokyo and Nagoya that would be the world’s fastest train line, with speeds of up to 310mph.

There are downsides to mind boggling speed however. ETT is hugely expensive as is maglev track infrastructure; imagine trying to build a vacuum tube from Leeds to London Kings Cross. The maglev track infrastructure is much more complex than conventional steel rails and uses a lot of electricity. Also, the experience of travelling through a tube on a train with no windows is a far cry from enjoying views of the English countryside.

The UK is making some strides with high-speed rail. The new Hitachi-made Super Express high-speed train will, over the next few years, be replacing the InterCity 125 and will be seen on the Great Western main line in 2017. The UK has a lot of catching up to do though if it is to match China.

The BBC online article can be accessed here.