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Trains and Railroads

Ultrafast Trains, The Modern Travel Alternative

In 1964, the Japanese inaugurated the Shinkansen train, initially capable of going an unprecedented 100 MPH (161 km/h). They have since built a net of high speed railroads across Japan. These trains run on special tracks and have had no serious accidents since the opening of the system. Europe has a number of high speed trains, from the Swedish X2000, capable of running at 136 MPH (219 km/h) average speed, to the German Intercity Express. The French, however, are the kings of high speed rail transport. The TGV trains run regularly over the countryside at nearly 200 MPH (322 km/h). A special TGV train running over new track has reached an astounding 319 MPH (514 km/h).

At such speeds, the technology of railroads must be rethought. Locomotive and passenger car suspension must be redesigned, and most trains must run on specially graded and built track. Engineers require in-cab signaling, as with average speeds ranging between 150 and 200 MPH (241 and 322 km/h), there is not enough time to read the external signals. Brakes must be reconsidered. A train running at 155 mph capable of braking at 1.6 ft/s2 requires about 3 mi (4.8 km) to stop fully after the brakes are first applied.

A high speed option that is the topic of hot research is a non-contact, magnetically levitated (maglev) train. Strong magnetic forces would hold the train above the track. Such a train would have virtually no rolling resistance or friction because there would be no wheels and nothing rolling. The only impedance would be that of air, making it extremely efficient. Maglev trains are still in the research phase, and more development is required before this possibility can be realized.

Railroads were a significant factor in the development of industry and are still a significant mode of transportation for goods and passengers. In terms of efficiency, they cannot be rivaled. While a diesel truck can haul a single or tandem tractor-trailer, a diesel locomotive can haul a string of loaded boxcars. As we become more concerned about the environment and internal combustion engines are phased out, railroads are poised to assume an even larger role in transportation, and a new Age of the Iron Horse may well be upon us.



Drury, G.H. The Historical Guide to North American Railroads. Waukesha, WI: Kalmbach Books, 1988.

Hiscox, G.D. Mechanical Movements, Powers, and Devices. New York: Norman W. Henley Publishing Co., 1927.

Lorie, P., and C. Garratt. Iron Horse: Steam Trains of the World. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company Inc., 1987.

Nock, O.S. Locomotion. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1975.

Snell, J.B. Early Railways. London, England: Octopus Books, 1964.

Stover, J.F. The Life and Decline of the American Railroad. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Kristin Lewotsky


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—Frictional contact that makes the wheels of an engine grip the rails.


—A single tube or multitube vessel in which water is heated to steam.


—A cylindrical tank into which steam is introduced to push a piston head back and forth, creating mechanical motion to drive the locomotive wheels.


—A noncontact (frictionless) method of train suspension in which strong magnetic forces are used to levitate the train above the track.

Rolling stock

—Railroad cars. Rolling stock can contain such specialized cars as tank cars, refrigerator cars, and piggyback cars.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Toxicology - Toxicology In Practice to TwinsTrains and Railroads - The Steam Locomotive, The First Locomotives, The American Standard, Diesel And Electric Locomotives, Track