How the Shinkansen ’Shapes Up’ Against the French and Chinese High-Speed Rail

  • Japan, China, and Europe all have high-speed rail connectivity for people to travel faster to their destinations. There are quite a few differences between the French TGV, the Japanese Shinkansen and the Chinese High-Speed Rail (HSR). Let’s have a look at them and see what makes the Japanese Shinkansen unique among all.


    Bullet trains or High-Speed trains have an average speed of 200 km/hr. The Japanese Shinkansen was, in fact, the breakthrough in bullet train technology and is one of many things Japan is renowned for. Although in Europe, there had already been super fast trains, it was Japan who took it to another level. With the successful implementation of the Shinkansen in 1964 between Tokyo and Osaka, the German and French railways increased the speeds of their trains by consulting engineers for improvement. It was not until the 70s that High-Speed Rail in Europe really took shape with the successful operational demonstration of the French Turbotrain Grande Vitesse (TGV) run by the Société nationale des chemins de fer français (SNCF). The first TGV service ran from Paris to Lyon in 1981. On the other hand, the Chinese High-Speed Rail (HSR) was only introduced in the 2000s.


    China has the world’s largest high-speed rail network. Its high-speed rail passes through most of its provinces covering small and big cities. However, the Japanese Shinkansen are designed primarily to link highly populated areas of Japan. It passes through major urban centers in almost a straight path across the country connecting them; hence, they have a lot of stops. The French TGV is designed to connect the corners of the country to the center, Paris. The TGV lines are not so populated as Japan.


    Out of all three high-speed rails being compared here, Shinkansen appears to have the better design, as it’s designed to run even when it is full of people. They have a larger space inside with more seats. The Shinkansen has comparatively more wheel sets to carry more payload which makes it capable of carrying more passengers. However, TGV has recently introduced a new duplex train with more space to carry more passengers.

    Also, since Japan has hilly volcanic terrain, its trains have a better ‘curving’ ability as they can turn easily as it is not very rigid between the cars. On the other hand, TGV’s rigid design does not make it useful on a hilly terrain when there are several turns. However, one advantage of rigidity is that the train is stable even at its highest speeds. The Chinese HSR was inspired by both European and Japanese technology and has a similar design. Shinkansens have long noses and a smaller pantograph while TGV has smaller noses and bigger pantographs. Bigger pantographs provide more safety to the train. Since China has developed its high-speed rail network through technology transfer from Japan and Europe, its trains have different designs. However, China has been doing research in advancing its HSR and expanding across different provinces.

    After all of these pros and cons, it can be said that all three rail networks are the best in their own right. However, when it comes to Japan, it is a technological treasure and there is no doubt that the Shinkansen has inspired other rail networks around the world as a high-speed rail pioneer.

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