Going off the Rails: Most Amazing Trains

When James Watt patented the first “modern” steam engine in 1781, he probably thought something like “Man, this steam engine I just patented is great!” He probably didn’t think that within 25 years there would be steam-powered locomotives, and that within a century there would be railways spanning entire continents. But that’s what happened. Trains were the first viable overland mechanical transport humans invented, and they remain an intrinsic part of everyday life in the modern era. From hauling coal and grain across the countryside to carrying half-awake, hungover accountants and baristas to work beneath city streets, we are a culture dependent on trains.

5 Japanese Series Lo

The fastest train of tomorrow will be the Japanese Series Lo, currently in development at the JR Tokai Company. The Lo trains are maglev trains, meaning they float on a sort of “cushion” of charged electrons. Think of it like the way an air hockey table works, but in this case the air is electromagnetism, and the puck is a massive train flying along (almost literally) at more than 310 mph. These trains won’t be in regular service for more than a decade yet, but once they are, you can bet there will be some happy Tokyo-Nagoya commuters.

4 The last armored train

Image credit: Guestofaguest.com

The last armored train still in regular service is believed to be that of the late North Korean dictator, King Jung Il. Like his father before him and his plucky, chubby successor, Kim figured people were constantly out to kill him, and purportedly favored travel via a Soviet-built armored train. He used it for domestic trips and for the rare visit to the only two places in the world that were happy to see him, China and Russia. Kim Jong Il was reportedly on an armored train when he died in 2011, in fact, which is a rather delicious irony.

3 The fastest trains of the 19th century

Image credit: American-rails.com

The fastest trains of the 19th century may be slowpokes compared to today’s amazing trains, but rail travel was routinely taking place at more than 60 mph as the 1800s drew to a close. Considering that at the outset of the century the fastest overland travel was on horseback, that’s pretty rapid development (awesome pun, we know).

2 The Australian BHP

Image credit: Theaustralian.com.au

The Australian BHP iron ore carrying train is officially certified as the longest train ever. Moving at a speed of 60 mph, it would take more than four and a half minutes for this behemoth to cruise past you from locomotive(s) to caboose. That’s correct: The train is often longer than four and a half miles in length when at full capacity.

1 High Speed Train CRH380A

The fastest train in the world today is China’s prosaically named CRH380A. A better name for this speed demon would be something like “Flying Dagger Speed Tube,” because with a top speed of just over 300 mph, this thing puts all other trains to shame. At any given moment, several dozen of these veritable bullets are tearing up the tracks.

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