Astonishing comparison between British and Chinese trains

In the UK, these are mainly what count as fast trains. The only snag is that… they’re not fast. Photo credit – Pixabay


As China relaunches the world’s fastest trains, we look at the contrasts with rail travel in the UK.


”As you speed between the cultural centres of England and Scotland” says the promotional material for Virgin Trains, ”you can watch some of the finest scenery the country has to offer go flashing by.”

That’s part of an advert for the East Coast service between London and Edinburgh. One of the trains that operate that route is pictured on the right, above, at York station.

Despite the optimistic use of the words ‘speed’ and ‘flash’ that line operates at an average speed of just 98 miles per hour (158 kiliometers per hour) on the very fastest service, which only runs once per day, taking four hours to cover 393 miles. On other services, average speeds are closer to 90mph (145kph).

True, it isn’t the fastest line in Britain. That’s HS1, which links a small stretch of the South East of England from London to the Channel Tunnel at Folkestone. That 68 mile (109 kilometer) link allows for speeds as high as 186mph (300kph) with the somewhat disheartening truth that the domestic trains that use the line only reach 140mph (225kph).

I used to use British trains regularly, until slow speeds and astonishingly high fares forced me back into my car. 

Nevertheless, I read the news from China yesterday with envy.

From next month, the world’s fastest trains will be re-introduced in China, reaching eye-watering speeds of 217 mph (350 kph). That’ll mean that a Chinese train will be able to cover 777 (1,250 kph) journey from Beijing to Shanghai in around about the same time a British train can travel from London to Edinburgh.

For a bit more context, I’ve worked out that the British train would take 8.5 hours to cover the same distance. 

It’s great news for China – but serves to highlight the fact that, for the UK, new high speed lines can’t come quickly enough.

Rupert Reid

Pilot and Senior Broadcast Journalist at Panda Radio. You can find him on Twitter @rupertreid

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