The United States has practically no high-speed rail (and the rail that is high speed is barely high speed at all). China on the other hand has around two-thirds of all the world's high-speed rail. Europe also has a large and well-developed high-speed network. While most people move about the continent with their incredibly cheap flights, its high-speed rail is always worth checking as well.

The high-speed rail network in Europe is a growing and increasingly popular and efficient mode of transport on the continent. The first high-speed lines were built in the 1970s and have continued to be expanded and improved since then.

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High-Speed Rail In Europe

There is no set definition of what high-speed rail is, but generally, it is regarded as lines built to handle speeds in excess of 250 km/h (155 mph) and upgraded lines in excess of 200 km/h (124 mph). The fastest conventional high-speed rail is the Beijing-Shanghai rail getting up to speeds of 350 km/h (217 mph). The fastest maglev train is the Shanghai Maglev Train at 431 km/h (268 mph).

  • Tokaido Shinkansen: The First High-Speed Rail (aka The Bullet Train)
  • Fastest Train: The Shanghai Maglev Train At 431 km/h (268 mph)
  • Chuo Shinkansen: Fastest Underconstruction At 505 km/h (314 mph)

Some of these lines now cross international borders and many countries are now connected by the high-speed railway network. More countries in Europe are expected to be connected in the coming years as Europe continues to invest heavily in the needed tunnels, bridges, and other infrastructure.

The leading countries in Europe with high-speed rail networks are France and Spain with Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom also having significant amounts of high-speed rail. It is also to be found in a number of smaller European countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, Nordic countries, Switzerland, and more.

One of the fastest segments of high-speed rail in Europe is the Madrid-Barcelona high-speed rail line. It is a 621 kilometer or 386-mile line inaugurated in 2008. It is designed for speeds of up to 350 kilometers an hour or 217 mph.

  • Duration: 2 Hours 30 Minutes Madrid to Barcelona
  • Lowest train ticket cost: $29

From Barcelona, it connects to the Perpignan-Barcelona high-speed line in France that in turn connects to others in the European high-speed network.

Countries Connected: France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, and the United Kingdom

Still, with over two-thirds of the world's high-speed rail network in China alone, Europe's network is a poor second at best. It is possible to between most of China's major cities by high-speed rail.

Also in Asia, Japan is famous for its history of high-speed rail. Perhaps surprisingly, one can even find a high-speed train in the Central Asian country of Uzbekistan.

Related: Bullet Train Concept Could Take You From Oregon To Canada In 2 Hours

Plans To Improve Europe's High-Speed Rail and Criticism

The railways are continuously being built and upgraded to international standards on the emerging European high-speed rail network. Most of the fastest rails are in Western Europe with France and Spain having the fastest segments on the continent.

  • European Union Goal: To Develop A Trans-European High-Speed Rail Network

The Europeans are planning faster trains and simpler tickets, still, there are a number of critics about the network in Europe with one study concluding but the EU's plans:

"There is no realistic long term EU plan for high speed rail, but an ineffective patchwork of national lines not well linked since the European Commission has no legal tools and no powers to force Member States to build lines as agreed."

One can browse high-speed lines in Europe and make bookings on Eurail.com.

Related: 20 (Epic & Intimidating) Tunnels We'll Want To Close Our Eyes For When Traveling Through

One can also cross over into England from France via rail. The Chunnel is the longest continuous undersea tunnel in the world and is one of the greatest feats of modern engineering. One can travel as a passenger or can load one's car onto the train and have it ferried to the other side.

  • Chunnel Length: 31.5 miles long or 50.45 km
  • Longest: The World's Longest Undersea Tunnel

It runs to London in England from where one can get highspeed connections to other parts of the country and up to Scotland. On the European side, it connects to Paris and a few other cities in Belgium and France where one can also get other high-speed connections. Taking this train is however generally more expensive than flying.

  • Connects: London to Paris And Other Cities In France and Belgium

The only company operating this connection is Eurostar and one can book tickets on its website. It is also one of the few connections going across an international border that require immigration checks - so don't forget the passport. There are many interesting things to know about the Chunnel - including aborted attempts to connect England with France in the 1880s.

Next: On Board The Eurostar: The Longest Underwater Train System In The World