Are high-speed trains on track to be the future of travel?

Shinkansen running past Mt. Fuji and Shibazakura in spring. Source: Shutterstock.

HIGH-SPEED RAIL (HSR) is poised to be the preferred mode of transportation over air travel in the near future, especially for routes that are no longer than five to seven hours.

With new technologies continuing to push boundaries, the HSR will eventually become a competitive alternative to air travel for a slew of reasons.

For starters, taking a bullet train feels more connected and more door-to-door if you take having to trudge to the airport and going through multiple levels of checks and security into consideration. There’s also the compulsory need to be at the airport at least two hours before the flight and the dwell time prior to boarding.

In Japan, for example, the Shinkansen (otherwise known as the bullet train) has become a popular mode of domestic travel.

Nozomi, the country’s speediest bullet train, will get you from Tokyo to Osaka in two hours and 30 minutes for about US$136 one way. Comparatively, a flight from Tokyo to Osaka on All Nippon Airways (ANA), Japan’s largest airline, will take you an hour and 15 minutes and cost you upwards of US$109 one way.

The train operates every 10 minutes during the daytime between Tokyo and Osaka. If you’re not starved for time, that’s really quite competitive. Passengers can quite literally get on the Nozomi at Tokyo Station at breakfast and arrive in Osaka for a lunch of takoyaki – all the while staying on the ground.

Takoyaki is a popular savory street food in Osaka with bits of octopus and dough. Source: Shutterstock.

Undoubtedly, Japan is still the leader in HSR, having championed the form of travel since the 1960s. But other countries, seeing its potential, have now also picked up on the technology.

Many Asian countries have developed HSR to connect major cities such as:

China: Beijing – Shanghai

Time: Four hours and 30 minutes.

Price: From CNY553 (US$87) one way.

South Korea: Seoul – Busan

Time: Two hours and 41 minutes.

Price: From KRW53,000 (US$50) one way.

Taiwan: Taipei – Kaohsiung

Time: One hour and 30 minutes.

Price: TWD1,490 (US$51) one way.

Meanwhile, countries that have HSRs in the pipeline include:

  • Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur – Singapore (Target completion date: 2026)
  • India: Mumbai – Ahmedabad (Target completion date: 2022)

Other than cost vs. time vs. convenience, staying on the ground from point A to point B is beginning to be a more logical approach to travel for passengers, especially for those who have aerophobia (the fear of flying).

For almost the same price of a plane ticket, you get comfier and roomier seats, a chance to stretch your legs at stops, and a stunning view from a larger window of natural landscapes.

There are also no security checks, no luggage weight limits, and more importantly, no turbulence that will randomly jolt you awake from your nap.

Finally, think about the environmental benefits of HSR over air travel since it runs on electric energy and not by burning jet fuel. This meets new travel demands for a much lower carbon footprint than driving or flying. Less pollution equals happier travelers and a healthier Earth.

Two members of staff from the Shinkansen in Japan on the journey from Tokyo to Osaka. Source: Shutterstock.

It’s safe to say that HSR is speeding in the right direction.

Have you experienced travel on a high-speed train?