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What is the Average Bullet Train Speed?

By Dantzel Cenatiempo
Updated May 23, 2024
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Bullet train speed varies slightly but they usually travel between 150 mph and 187 mph (241 kph and 300 kph). Traditionally the term "bullet train" refers to Japanese models. In recent years, however, it has often become a slang expression for any passenger train that reaches high speeds.

Among the many countries with well-developed transportation systems, France and Japan are famous for their fast, efficient bullet trains. France's Train de Grand Vitesse (TGV), which means "high-speed train," has an official average time of 157 mph (252 kph), while Japan's bullet train speed tends to be higher. Their bullet train Shinkansen was one of the first of its kind and opened for public use in 1964.

The Shinkansen averaged 100 mph to 131 mph (160 kph to 210 kph) in its earlier days. Newer parts of the Japanese network average 163 mph (261 kph) and boast an upper range of 187 mph (300 kph). This bullet train speed makes the Shikansen a tough competitor for France's TGV.

Japan's bullet trains connect not only big cities like Tokyo and Osaka but also run through virtually every populated area of the country. Since the late 1980s and 1990s, many new branches have been built and upgrades have been made to both trains and tracks. Tokaido, Sanyo, Tohoku, Joetsu, and Hokuriko are five of the main Shikansen lines currently in operation.

Due to safety concerns, it is unusual for a scheduled passenger train to intentionally break bullet train speed records. Specific trial runs are typically set aside for this purpose. The Shikansen's top commercial time varies somewhat, but its best record is about 277 mph (443 kph). By contrast, its highest speed during a normal passenger run averages 164 mph (262 kph).

Within the Shikansen network, the fastest line is generally the Sanyo. Cars on this line are from the newer 500 series and have been in operation since 1997, reaching top speeds of 187 mph (300 kph). To provide a frame of reference for the speeds made possible by bullet trains, the line that runs between Hiroshima and Kokura can take passengers 120 miles (192 km) in approximately 44 minutes.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1002139 — On Sep 15, 2019

"I know the rail lines are expensive, but they make money, and they create domestic jobs."

Amtrak made 90% of their expenses in 2016. This was regarded as "World Class Performance"

By Comparables — On Dec 22, 2010

@ GlassAxe- The high-speed rail network will be built, but we are behind the rest of the developed world on this. I have seen the maps of the proposed high-speed rail networks on the Federal Railroad Administration website and it is a beautiful thing. The entire eastern seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico will be connected from Houston to Montreal. Major cities in South Florida will also be connected by rail. There is a South-Central hub that will connect Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. The west will have two corridors; one connecting California Cities and another connecting Oregon and Washington Cities to Vancouver. The Upper Midwest will also have a great hub of high-speed rail with Chicago being its center-point.

My biggest question is why there is no Southwest corridor. Why is there not a corridor that would connect Albuquerque, Phoenix, and Las Vegas to the California corridor? Phoenix metro is the fifth largest in the nation, and is a national banking center. Furthermore, Albuquerque is an important technology and defense center, and Las Vegas is a convention and tourist destination. This I would love to see.

By GlassAxe — On Dec 20, 2010

@ PelesTears- The problem is the political system. It is so broken that the people who control infrastructure improvements like this are 1) In the pocket of special interest groups like the Airline and fossil fuel lobbyists and 2) Only care about their short-term future. These politicians play the rhetoric game where they justify their special interests to their constituents based on outrage over the deficit or some other economic scapegoat. One almost has to wonder if any of these proposed high-speed rail systems will be built.

By PelesTears — On Dec 18, 2010

I do not understand why the politicians in this country are so against having high speed rail. We are so far behind countries like France, Japan, and Spain. I know the rail lines are expensive, but they make money, and they create domestic jobs, something that is greatly needed. These rail lines also create regional economic growth that would help strengthen the nation between the four coasts.

I know that the current administration has granted billions for a high-speed rail network, but some of the newly elected governors in a few states are giving back the money, essentially relying on the current system of jets and automobiles to move people and spur economic growth. This country needs more energy efficient mass transit, especially interstate transit. If we could even get a rail system that averaged speeds three quarters the speed of bullet trains we could spur domestic growth. What is the hold-up?

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