The realm of high-speed trains has seen significant evolution over the years, with advancements ranging from the renowned Shinkansen to the remarkable TGV. This progress has not only revolutionized transportation but has also provided a viable alternative to air travel, contributing to economic development, minimizing travel durations, and promoting eco-friendly commuting.

Today, high-speed rail is not just about speed but also about affordability, with the emergence of budget-friendly options across Europe. Countries like Germany, Italy, France, Spain, China, and Japan have developed extensive high-speed rail networks, featuring trains capable of surpassing speeds of 300 km/h.

The trajectory of high-speed rail is poised for further expansion and enhancement. Despite encountering obstacles, various high-profile projects are on the horizon. Examples include the California high-speed rail initiative, the intricate history of high-speed rail endeavors in Australia, and notably, the perpetually delayed HS2 project in the UK.

Despite setbacks experienced by some projects, last year saw five out of the ten most expensive rail projects globally being high-speed rail ventures, with all five situated in Asia. This region, particularly due to China's rapid network expansion, remains a focal point for high-speed rail development.​

10. Trenitalia Frecciarossa 1000: 300km/h

Trenitalia's Frecciarossa, also known as ETR1000 or the red arrow, was developed as a collaboration between Hitachi Rail Italy and Alstom. This high-speed train operates not only in Italy but also in Spain, where the private operator Iryo utilizes 20 S 109 trainsets based on the ETR1000 design.

The ETR1000, designed partly in response to the private operator Italo in Italy, boasts impressive specifications. Each trainset accommodates 457 passengers across eight non-articulated cars spanning 200 meters. While engineered for a maximum speed of 400 km/h, the trains typically operate at 300 km/h. However, during testing in 2015, one ETR1000 set reached a remarkable speed of 389 km/h.

A total of 50 ETR1000 trainsets were manufactured, although one is currently inactive following the Livraga derailment. This incident occurred on 6 February 2020, when an ETR1000, operating the initial service of the day, derailed at Livraga along the Milan-Bologna high-speed line. Tragically, the derailment resulted in the loss of both train drivers and injuries to 31 passengers. Notably, this remains the sole railway accident recorded on the Italian high-speed rail network to date.

9. Korail KTX-Sancheon: 305km/h

South Korea's national railway operator, Korail, manages the high-speed rail service in the country known as Korea Train Express (KTX), which commenced operations in 2004. Initially, the network utilized rolling stock partly constructed in Korea, based on Alstom's TGV Réseau. However, the rolling stock has since transitioned to entirely domestically produced models, such as the KTX-Sancheon, manufactured by Hyundai Rotem.

Named after the indigenous fish cherry salmon, the KTX-Sancheon is South Korea's first domestically designed and developed high-speed train, boasting a top operational speed of 305 km/h. Currently, 71 trainsets of the KTX-Sancheon, capable of accelerating from 0 to 300 km/h in 316 seconds, accommodate up to 363 passengers each on South Korea's high-speed rail network.

In 2013, the new generation HEMU-430X prototype set a record speed of 421.4 km/h, surpassing the previous Korean rail speed record of 352.4 km/h set by a KTX-Sancheon HSR-350x train. This achievement positions South Korea among only four countries globally with trains capable of surpassing 420 km/h, alongside France, Japan, and China. Hyundai Rotem is presently constructing 16 sets of the latest commercial electrical multiple-unit model of the HEMU-430X, the EMU-320, which is anticipated to enter service by year-end. In contrast to the KTX-Sancheon's acceleration time of 316 seconds, the EMU-320 can accelerate from 0 to 300 km/h in 230 seconds and is designed to operate at a speed of 320 km/h.

8. Renfe AVE 103: 310km/h

Renfe Class 103, also known as AVE 103, is a high-speed train utilized by the Spanish state-run operator Renfe for its AVE high-speed service. Manufactured by Siemens as part of the Velaro family, these trains operate at speeds up to 310 km/h.

Spanish high-speed rail commenced operations in 1992, initially connecting Madrid, Córdoba, and Seville. Since then, the network has expanded to link major cities and facilitate international connections, including open-access operators, fostering a competitive high-speed rail market. Twenty-six trainsets operate on the 621 km Barcelona–Madrid high-speed railway, accommodating up to 404 passengers. In 2006, an S103 achieved a record top speed of 403.7 km/h, setting a Spanish rail speed record.

Notably, Renfe's 8-car configuration comprises two identical half-trains of four coaches each. Each section features an independent power system, with glass screens separating the driver's cab and passenger seating, offering passengers views akin to the driver's perspective, with the option for the driver to obscure these views if desired.

7. ONCF Al Boraq: 320km/h

Africa's inaugural high-speed railway, Al Boraq in Morocco, ranks seventh on our list of the world's fastest trains. Operated by the Moroccan national railway operator, Office National des Chemins de Fer du Maroc (ONCF), the line connects Casablanca and Tangier. Al Boraq comprises two segments: a newly constructed dedicated high-speed line from Tangier to Kenitra and an upgraded existing line from Kenitra to Casablanca.

Running at speeds of up to 320 km/h on the 323 km dedicated high-speed track are 12 Alstom Avelia Euroduplex (also known as TGV 2n2f) trainsets. Notably, these Euroduplex trains are bi-level, with a capacity to carry 533 passengers. Consisting of two power cars and eight passenger cars, these trainsets offer enhanced capacity and efficiency.

The $2 billion project has significantly reduced travel times between Casablanca and Rabat, halving the journey duration from nearly five hours to just over two hours. During pre-service testing on the Al Boraq line, trains achieved speeds of up to 357 km/h— more than twice the speed of the next fastest trains currently operating in Africa.

​​6. JR Shinkansen: 320km/h

Japan's renowned Shinkansen, colloquially known as the bullet train, ranks sixth globally in terms of speed. Japan pioneered dedicated high-speed railway networks, initially connecting remote Japanese regions with the capital, Tokyo. The inaugural 515 km Tokyo–Nagoya–Osaka Tokaido Shinkansen line launched in 1964, and the network now spans almost 3,000 km of track.

While the original Shinkansen trains, classified as the 0 series, had a maximum operating speed of 220 km/h, the current E5 and H5 Series, manufactured by Hitachi Rail and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, reach a top operating speed of 320 km/h. The E5 series operates on Tohoku Shinkansen and Hokkaido Shinkansen services, while the H5 series is a cold-weather variant of the E5 series, featuring enhanced snowplows, more durable rubber protection on car connections, and a stainless-steel underframe to shield electronics from harsh weather conditions.

In experimental testing in 1996, the Class 955 "300X" Tōkaidō Shinkansen recorded a top speed of 443 km/h, surpassing everyday operations. Currently under development by JR Central is the experimental Maglev Shinkansen, the L0 Series, manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and JR Central subsidiary Nippon Sharyo. Scheduled for passenger service launch in 2027 on the Chūō Shinkansen railway line between Tokyo and Osaka, these trains are anticipated to operate at 500 km/h, with a testing top speed of 603 km/h.

​​5. SCNCF TGV: 320km/h

The Train à Grande Vitesse, or TGV, holds a significant place in high-speed rail history, serving as a pioneer in Europe's first high-speed railway network in France. Since its inception, the TGV has continually set and broken speed records.

In 1981, TGV Sud-Est trainset number 16 achieved a record speed of 380 km/h. Nearly a decade later, in 1990, a modified TGV Atlantique 325 train reached a new record speed of 515.3 km/h. This record was surpassed in 2007 by a Modified TGV POS, equipped with two powered bogies similar to the AGV prototype, reaching 574.8 km/h, the current world record.

Manufactured by Alstom and primarily operated by the French operator SNCF, TGV Duplex, Réseau, POS, and Euroduplex models typically operate at a top track speed of 320 km/h in France.

The SNCF TGV network extends beyond France, directly connecting to Italy, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany. Open-access operators also utilize TGV trainsets to link France to other countries. TGV Lyria serves Switzerland, while Thalys/Eurostar operates routes to the UK, Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium. TGV trainsets are also in operation in the US, Spain, Italy, Morocco, China, and South Korea.

​​4. DB ICE: 350km/h

The latest model, TGV-M, was unveiled in 2021. SNCF placed a €2.7 billion order for 100 TGV-M trainsets in July 2018, then known as the Avelia Horizon. With a proposed maximum capability of 350 km/h, the TGV-M is expected to enter service with SNCF in 2024.

The ICE 3, or Intercity-Express 3, represents the flagship of high-speed rail in Germany, manufactured by Siemens and Bombardier. Primarily operated by Deutsche Bahn (DB), the ICE 3 family includes classes 403, 406, 407, and 408.

Although ICE 3 trains typically operate at a national maximum high-speed track speed of 320 km/h in Germany, class 403 is authorized to run at speeds of 330 km/h on the high-speed line between Frankfurt and Cologne to mitigate delays. In trial runs, ICE 3 Classes 403 and 406 have achieved top speeds of 368 km/h.

The ICE 3M/F served as the inspiration for Siemens' Velaro trainsets, utilized in various countries including Germany, Belgium, France, the UK, the Netherlands, Spain, China, Russia, Turkey, and Egypt, which has ordered 41 eight-car ICE trainsets.

3. CR Fuxing: 350km/h

The China Railway (CR) Fuxing, also known as the CR series EMU, represents a series of high-speed trains developed by the China Railway Corporation. Operating at speeds of 350 km/h, Fuxing trains have been tested at speeds as high as 420 km/h.

Fuxing models mark the first entirely domestically produced high-speed trains in China, devoid of any proprietary or licensed technology from external rolling stock manufacturers. An 8-car Fuxing set measures 209 meters in length, 3.36 meters in width, and 4.06 meters in height, accommodating over 500 passengers. Primarily recognized for their service on the Beijing–Shanghai high-speed railway, which connects the two cities in just under 5 hours, Fuxing sets also operate on seven other lines in China.

Notably, a modified Fuxing model is utilized on the new high-speed connection to Tibet, designed to operate at high altitudes. Additionally, the Fuxing CR400AF model is set to operate abroad, with 11 trainsets ordered for the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway in Indonesia, scheduled to commence operations this year.

2. CR Harmony: 350km/h

The China Railway (CR) Hexie, or Harmony, encompasses the CRH series EMU high-speed trains, sharing the same top operating speed of 350 km/h as the Fuxing trains. However, they rank second on our list due to their higher record speeds in testing. Initially constructed using existing technology from global rolling stock manufacturers, the CR Harmony was developed with the aim of gradually building up China's own technological expertise. This objective culminated in the domestic development of the CR Fuxing trains.

The CRH380B, based on the Siemens Velaro family, has been in service on the Shanghai–Hangzhou High-Speed Railway and Shanghai–Nanjing High-Speed Railway since 2011. Among the Harmony models, the CRH380A boasts the second-highest recorded speed, reaching 486.1 km/h during a test run in 2010. While not produced under a technology transfer agreement, there have been allegations that the CRH380A is based on unlicensed Japanese Shinkansen technology.

Another noteworthy model is the CRH380D, derived from the Bombardier Zefiro 380, with a record test speed of 483 km/h, the highest speed ever recorded by a conventional unmodified high-speed train. With 85 trainsets in operation in China, split across the Shanghai Railway and Chengdu Railway, the CRH380D is a significant player in China's high-speed rail network.

1. Shanghai Maglev: 460km/h

Topping the list is the Shanghai Maglev, also referred to as the Shanghai Transrapid, boasting a maximum operating speed of 460 km/h and an average speed of 251 km/h, with a record high-speed achievement of an astounding 501 km/h. Unlike conventional high-speed models, the maglev train employs electromagnetic force to levitate above the track, eliminating friction and ensuring exceptionally smooth and quiet travel.

Operated by the Shanghai Maglev Transportation Development Company, the Shanghai Maglev was constructed as a joint venture between Siemens and the German multinational ThyssenKrupp.

Commercial operations commenced in April 2004, running along the 30.5 km Shanghai Maglev Line. This marks the world's first commercially operated high-speed magnetic levitation line, connecting Longyang Road Station in Shanghai to Shanghai Pudong International Airport. Despite not terminating in the city center, the maglev train covers the approximately 19-mile distance in just under eight minutes, offering an incredibly efficient connection to the airport.