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W&H MAIN YARDS: The Fastest Trains of North America and the World

By Dennis Larson
Last Updated 12-8-94

Attached to this article is a list of the world's fastest passenger trains. The information and sources are listed below. Some of the odd figures in miles are because the data is converted from meters to miles. As a result the top speed of Amtrak's Metroliners calculates out to 124.9, when the actual speed is 125. I did not attempt to do any rounding as the difference is usually insignificant.

My casual look at first turned out to be far different after a bit of scrutiny, and I will share some of my findings with you.

At the top of the list is France, Japan, Spain, Germany, and Sweden, all with state of the art equipment. Sweden however operates over track much like that in the United States with their X2000 services accounting for the lower average and top speed.

The UK also ranks very high with their IC 225 trains, trains operating at 125 MPH.

There is one addition with the notation 'Added-USA'. I have inserted this for comparison in addition to the information all ready provided.

Italy comes in seventh and after that North America follows. A casual glance shows that the USA is not only ahead of Canada, but has also beat out Russia, Poland and other countries in the high speed rail race.

Unfortunately Amtrak's high speed corridor times don't rank as well in real life as it seems. In fact the overall running times of all Metroliners, except one, are slower than the fastest Superliner Route segment of greater length on conventional jointed rail track!

The Metroliner speed run listed shows an average speed of 99.3 MPH but only for a distance of 31 miles.

Canada's 95 MPH Metropolis averages 90 MPH, seemingly slower but for a respectable 324 miles. In real life the Canadian and American trains turn out to be races of the tortoise and the hare, and like the fable, the tortoise wins.

The Russian model is the most similar to the United States, particularly the Chicago Hub area, with longer distances. The Moscow to Petersburg distance is nearly identical to Chicago-St. Paul, Kansas City, Omaha, Detroit, and St. Louis legs.

Russia turns in a far more respectable time than it appears on paper. Their ER 200 operating at a top speed of 125 MPH turns in an average of 81 MPH versus Amtrak's 99 MPH. But let's take a closer look.

Amtrak shows a brief burst of speed for the 31 miles, but over the 225 mile distance, average overall speed on most trains is a modest 75-77 MPH. They have only one train #202 operating at an average speed of 86 MPH for the 225 mile length.

In Russia their 81 MPH average is maintained over a distance of 404 miles. On Amtrak's high speed corridor route from Washington to Boston a distance of 457 miles, their through trains maintain an average of only 58 MPH or less.

Compare this with Amtrak's Superliner equipped Southwest Chief which averages 58 MPH for the 450 miles from Chicago to Kansas City including 7 intermediate stops. The overall average speed is 55 MPH for 2259 miles, including 31 stops, refueling, washing the train, and slow running over the Rockies.

The Florida trains with conventional equipment and trackage turn in similar speed averages, outpacing most through trains on the high speed corridor route. The Silver Meteor departs Washington at 8:24 PM and arrives in Kingstree at 4:02 AM, 447 miles to the south. This is done in 7 hours 38 minutes at an average speed of 58.56 MPH.

But if the Northeast Corridor through trains are not all that fast compared to today's trains outside the corridor, surely there has been a vast improvement over trains operated 30 and 40 years ago. After all the corridor has under gone extensive rebuilding, and also operates mostly with electric power, versus the slower diesel powered trains of the past.

But the look back is not encouraging either. In 1967 Burlington's Twin Cities Morning Zephyr departed St. Paul at 8:10 AM and arrived in Chicago's Union Station at 2:40 PM. The route was 427 miles long and was covered in 6 hours 30 minutes at an average speed of 65.69 MPH.

The Denver Zephyr departed Denver at 4:00 PM and arrived in Chicago's Union Station 17 hours later. The 1035 miles were covered at an average speed of 60.88 MPH.

Illinois Central's Panama Limited departed Chicago in 1957 at 5:00 PM and arrived in Fulton, Kentucky at 11:50 PM. The 404.8 miles were covered in 6 hours and 50 minutes at an average speed of 59.24 MPH.

Just to make the on-paper-North American railroad race more interesting, let's create an imaginary scenario. Let's relocate three major lines together in Kansas. Canada's Metropolis, Amtrak's Metroliners, the single fast train, (202), the regular Metroliner 104 (15 others have a similar timing) and Amtrak's Southwest Chief all together in Hutchinson, Kansas. For this day only all trains will depart at the same time for the great race with their regular equipment, trackage, stations, passengers and baggage.

The Metroliners will have the businessmen with brief cases, the Metropolis probably the same. The Chief will have its cliental who all ready had left the afternoon before on the Superliner from midwest points en route to the west. They will be families, a handful of businessmen out for a change of pace, students, mothers traveling with kids to see grandmother and tourists with cameras.

All four trains are lined up on separate tracks and they depart at precisely the same time. After departure the Metroliners and Metropolis fall behind immediately, negotiating the trackage in their big city yards and the Chief is in the lead. But soon the Metroliner with its superior power plant is up to speed and streaks past the Chief and the Metropolis leaving them in the dust, literally.

Soon the Metropolis starts gaining on the Chief, ever so slowly as there is little speed advantage. The Chief is a heavier train with the most passengers and after a short time is left behind the entire pack, the fourth of the four trains.

But the Metroliners both stop at New Carrollton, and the others catch up rapidly and go screaming by. Again the Metroliners depart, accelerate rapidly and overtake the Metropolitan and the Chief.

There are more stops, curves etc. for the Metroliners and finally after a couple hundred miles of neck and neck, nose to nose Metroliner 104 is behind in fourth place, the Canadian Metropolis never stopped at all and continued nearly a steady 95 MPH in first place at an average speed of 90. Metroliner 202 is second at an average speed of 85.99. Although the Chief averaged 85 miles an hour for 100 miles, it too stopped for passengers with a final average of 78.64 MPH. The strangler in the bunch is Metroliner 104, along with the other 15 with the same timing, with a speed of 77.14 MPH.

Fastest train in each country

Source: Eisenbahntechnische Rundschau 43 (1994), H. 4 - April 1994

Country     Train      from       to          dist  time Speed   Speed
                                              miles  min average max
France      TGV-A 8501 Massy TGV  St. Pierre  128.4   50   152.6  186.4
Japan       Nozomi     Hiroshima  Kokoru      119.3   50   143.2  170.9
Spain       AVE        Madrid     Ciudad Real 106.1   47   135.4  167.8
Germany     ICE        Hannover   Goettingen   61.8   31   119.6  155.3
Sweden      X2000 421  Skoevde    Alingsas     61.6   34   108.8  124.3
UK          IC 225     Doncaster  Grantham     50.5   28   106.3  124.9
Italy       ETR 450    Roma       Firenze Rif 162.7   96   101.7  155.3
USA         Metroliner Philly     Wilmington   31.4   19    99.3  124.9
Canada      Metropolis Toronto    Dorval      323.7  215    90.3   95.1
Added-USA   SW Chief   Garden Cty Lamar       100.0   71    84.5   90.0
Russia      ER 200     StPtrsbrg  Moscow      403.8  299    81.0  124.3
Poland      Express    Warszawa C Zawiercie   157.3  119    79.3   99.4
Finland     IC 18      Lppnrnta   Kouvola      53.6   41    78.5   87.0
Austria     SprCty 989 Linz       St. Poelten  79.5   61    78.2  124.3
Blgm/France EC Brabant Brussels C Paris Nord  193.9  150    77.5   99.4
Ireland     Express    Dublin H   Limerick J  107.0   84    76.4   90.1
Australia   Rvrna XPT  The Rock   Henty        18.6   15    74.6   99.4
Netherlands ErCities   Arnhem     Utrecht      36.0   29    74.6   87.0

VIA Rail's (Canada) Metropolis
(The North American Winner)
Toronto-Dorval 323.1 miles @ 89.75 MPH

Train Number                   66      
Train Name                   Metropolis
Frequency            km        ex Sa

Toronto, ON (ET)       0 Dp    17:00
Guildwood             21      
Oshawa                51      
Port Hope            101      
Cobourg              113      
Trenton Jct          163      
Belleville           182      
Napanee              217      
Kingston             254 
Kingston             254 
Gananoque            290 
Brockville           335 
Prescott             354 
Cornwall, ON         428 
Coteau, QC           476
Dorval               520      20:36
Montreal, QC (ET)    539 Ar   20:59

Express train - 3 hours 59 minutes

Amtrak's Metroliner #202
(North American second place)

     STATION        TIME             MPH   OVERALL
   0 Washington      6:50 AM ET
   9 New Carrollton  6:59 AM ET    60.00     60.00
 134 Philadelphia    8:23 AM ET    89.29     86.45
 225 New York        9:27 AM ET    85.31     85.99

Amtrak's Southwest Chief #3, Superliner Equipment
(North American third place)

     STATION        TIME             MPH   OVERALL
   0 Hutchinson      5:28 AM CT               0.00
 120 Dodge City      7:04 AM CT    75.00     75.00
 170 Garden City     7:43 AM CT    76.92     75.56
 270 Lamar           7:54 AM MT    84.51     78.64

Amtrak's Metroliner #104 and 15 others
(North American fourth Place)

     STATION        TIME             MPH   OVERALL
  0 Washington D.C. 8:00 AM ET
  9 New Carrollton  8:09 AM ET    60.00     60.00
 40 Baltimore       8:33 AM ET    77.50     72.73
109 Wilmington      9:17 AM ET    94.09     84.94
134 Philadelphia    9:40 AM ET    65.22     80.40
200 Metropark      10:26 AM ET    86.09     82.19
215 Newark         10:40 AM ET    64.29     80.63
225 NY Penn        10:55 AM ET    40.00     77.14

Amtrak's Southwest Chief #3

     STATION        TIME             MPH   OVERALL
  0 Chicago         5:00 PM CT                    
 38 Joliet          5:55 PM CT       41        41 
 90 Streator        6:39 PM CT       71        55 
130 Chillicothe     7:16 PM CT       65        57 
177 Galesburg       7:59 PM CT       66        59 
234 Fort Madison    8:50 PM CT       67        61 
312 La Plata        9:54 PM CT       73        64 
346 Marceline      10:26 PM CT       64        64
450 Kansas City    12:45 AM CT       45        58

Amtrak's Silver Meteor #97

     STATION        TIME             MPH   OVERALL
  0 Washington      8:24 PM ET
  9 Alexandria      8:41 PM ET    31.76     31.76
109 Richmond       10:24 PM ET    58.25     54.50
109 Richmond       10:34 PM ET              50.31
138 Petersburg     11:07 PM ET    52.73     50.80
235 Rocky Mount    12:30 AM ET    70.12     57.32
325 Fayetteville    1:55 AM ET    63.53     58.91
408 Florence        3:28 AM ET    53.55     57.74
447 Kingstree       4:02 AM ET    68.82     58.56

Amtrak's Express #166

     STATION        TIME             MPH   OVERALL
  0 Washington      2:20 PM ET
  9 New Carrollton  2:30 PM ET    54.00     54.00
 30 BWI Airport     2:46 PM ET    78.75     69.23
 40 Baltimore       2:59 PM ET    46.15     61.54
109 Wilmington      3:48 PM ET    84.49     74.32
135 Philadelphia    4:12 PM ET    65.00     72.32
167 Trenton         4:44 PM ET    60.00     69.58
201 Metropark       5:06 PM ET    92.73     72.65
215 Newark          5:20 PM ET    60.00     71.67
225 NY Penn         5:38 PM ET    33.33     68.18
225 NY Penn         5:58 PM ET              61.93
300 New Haven       7:28 PM ET    50.00     58.44
300 New Haven       7:38 PM ET              56.60
351 New London      8:30 PM ET    58.85     56.92
413 Providence      9:29 PM ET    63.05     57.76
445 Route 128       9:57 PM ET    68.57     58.42
456 Back Bay       10:11 PM ET    47.14     58.09
457 Boston South   10:20 PM ET     6.67     57.13

Dennis [Minnesota/Empire Builder Route]

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