A high-speed train linking Rome and Milan, which opened last year, is the first of a series of high-speed links which are soon to open or begin construction.

The new Red Arrow train between Rome and Milan travels at up to 300 kilometres per hour and completes the 475 kilometre journey in about three and a half hours. Travelling from Rome to Milan by air takes a little over two hours – but it can take another hour to get from the centre of Rome or Millan to the airport.

Another high speed line from Amsterdam to Brussels is scheduled to open later this year. It will cut the rail travel time between the two cities from 2 hours 40 minutes to 1 hour 44 minutes. Belgium already has high-speed tracks linking to the German and French high-speed train networks The French TGV trains travel at speeds of up to 320 kilometres per hour in commercial use and have reached 574 kilometres per hour on test runs.

With falling air passenger numbers and rapidly increasing high-speed rail passenger numbers, airlines are becoming interested in providing rail services. Air France-KLM is planning a new high-speed train service from London to Paris, beginning next year, which it says will complete the journey is less than 2 hours; and another service from Paris to Amsterdam  And Virgin Atlantic is also believed to be planning a high-speed European rail service.

Elsewhere, Californian voters have approved the construction of a high-speed rail link between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Construction is to begin in 2011. Currently, the trip by train and bus (San Francisco has no electric traiins) takes over nine hours. The proposed train would take about two and a half hours.

Japan is extending its high-speed rail network and introducing a new train, capable of 320 kilometres per hour, in 2011.

China opened its first high-speed intercity line, between Beijing and Tianjin, just before the Beijing Olympics. In all, Chaina has plans for 12,000 kilomtres of high-speed rail lines.

China also has the world’s only high-speed maglev commercial line – running 30 kilometres from Shanghai airport to the city centre in about seven and a half minutes. The train’s maximum normal operating speed is 431 kilometres per hour – about the same as the take-off speed of a Boeing 777.

The first inter-city maglev train line is planned for Shanghai to Hangzhou. Construction is scheduled to start next year with completion in 2014. The 169 kilometre journey will take just 27 minutes.

Shanghai Transrapid maglev train.

Shanghai Transrapid maglev train.