High-Speed Rail Networks Expand

Michael Renner | Nov 08, 2011

Interest in high-speed rail (HSR) is growing around the world, with the number of countries running such trains expected to grow from 14 in mid-2011 to 24 over the next few years.1 Although there is no single definition of high-speed rail, the threshold is typically set at 250 kilometers per hour (km/h) on new dedicated tracks and 200 km/h on existing, upgraded tracks.2

The length of high-speed rail tracks worldwide is undergoing explosive growth. In 2009, some 10,700 kilometers of track were operational.3 Just two years later, the total length has grown to almost 17,000 kilometers.4 Another 8,000 kilometers of track are currently under construction, and about 17,700 kilometers more are planned, for a combined total of close to 43,000 kilometers.5 That is equivalent to about 4 percent of all rail lines—passenger and freight—in the world.6

By track length, the current high-speed leaders are China, Japan, Spain, France, and Germany.7 (See Figure 1.) Planned new routes in France and Spain will put those two countries ahead of Japan in coming years.8 (See Table 1.)

Vital Signs Trend High-Speed Rail Figure 1

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