Japan’s Shinkansen high-speed rail network is the greatest train system ever invented by humans. The Germans are highly competent, but made the choice to incrementally upgrade rather than replace their national rail network. The Spanish have figured out how to build on the cheap, but have a long way to go before they have a system to compare to Shinkansen. The French? They’ve won a few races (and in fairness, it’s hard to beat a train ride from Paris to Marseille). The Chinese? Japanese technology — enough said. And the Americans? Let’s not even have that conversation. Shinkansen is the model: its Tokaido Line between Tokyo and Osaka has saved travelers so much time over its 50-year existence, and has made so much money, that JR Central is now investing $52 billion in the first Tokyo-to-Nagoya phase of a maglev upgrade of the corridor that will have an average speed of 265 miles per hour. Extensions of the existing “conventional” 150-200 mph Shinkansen network, meanwhile, are plowing ahead, with one line branching in the direction of Nagasaki, another looping from Tokyo and Nagano along the Sea of Japan toward Kyoto and Osaka, and yet another continuing north as far as Sapporo. Shinkansen’s only limitation? A lack of decent English-language information.
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