Bullet train speed varies slightly but they usually travel between 150 mph and 187 mph (241 kph and 300 kph). Traditionally the term "bullet train" refers to Japanese models. In recent years, however, it has often become a slang expression for any passenger train that reaches high speeds.
Among the many countries with well-developed transportation systems, France and Japan are famous for their fast, efficient bullet trains. France's Train de Grand Vitesse (TGV), which means "high-speed train," has an official average time of 157 mph (252 kph), while Japan's bullet train speed tends to be higher. Their bullet train Shinkansen was one of the first of its kind and opened for public use in 1964.
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The Shinkansen averaged 100 mph to 131 mph (160 kph to 210 kph) in its earlier days. Newer parts of the Japanese network average 163 mph (261 kph) and boast an upper range of 187 mph (300 kph). This bullet train speed makes the Shikansen a tough competitor for France's TGV.
Japan's bullet trains connect not only big cities like Tokyo and Osaka but also run through virtually every populated area of the country. Since the late 1980s and 1990s, many new branches have been built and upgrades have been made to both trains and tracks. Tokaido, Sanyo, Tohoku, Joetsu, and Hokuriko are five of the main Shikansen lines currently in operation.
Due to safety concerns, it is unusual for a scheduled passenger train to intentionally break bullet train speed records. Specific trial runs are typically set aside for this purpose. The Shikansen's top commercial time varies somewhat, but its best record is about 277 mph (443 kph). By contrast, its highest speed during a normal passenger run averages 164 mph (262 kph).
Within the Shikansen network, the fastest line is generally the Sanyo. Cars on this line are from the newer 500 series and have been in operation since 1997, reaching top speeds of 187 mph (300 kph). To provide a frame of reference for the speeds made possible by bullet trains, the line that runs between Hiroshima and Kokura can take passengers 120 miles (192 km) in approximately 44 minutes.