Travel has always been a task that is considered fundamental for the development and spread of society. It is in our nature to explore every corner of the world as fast as we can and unveil as many mysteries in our lives as we can. From the development of the wheel, which gave us the first artificial advantage over traveling more than five and a half millennia ago, to the invention of spacecraft, which allowed us to explore the vast outer space, we have come close to perfecting the technology concerning travel.
Before the inventions of planes in the early 20th century, it was necessary that people had a way to travel by land with as much convenience as possible. We had been using animals to serve our purpose for several thousand years, but that wasn’t a very effective method for transferring hundreds of people together or conveying heavy loads over distances of several miles. So, in the early 19th century, almost a hundred years before the invention of the first airplane, this hurdle was overcome by creating the machine that would do precisely that, termed as the “railway train.”
Nowadays, one of the things that we find common in machines that we use on a daily basis like cars, generators, and air conditioners is an engine. It is also the thing that makes them operational and proves them adequate for our needs. An engine works on a simple principle; put some form of energy like fuel or electricity into a machine, and you enable the machine to perform work. This concept of conversion of energy goes back to at least the Roman Empire (2000 years ago), where water wheels were used to accomplish various tasks.
The first successful device that used a steam-powered engine was a water pump, developed in the late 17th century by Thomas Savery. Its invention opened a world of possibilities regarding the mechanics of engines and their practical applications. Seeing the commercial success, investors from different parts of Britain decided to take part in a series of developments that would ultimately lead to the great Industrial Revolution.
Railway trains have come a long way since that historic day of September 7, 1825, when George Stephenson’s steam locomotive pulled the passenger train for the first time at a speed of 15.5 miles per hour. ConsideriDue to its speed, it was aptly named as “locomotion.” During the 185 years-long history of trains, much has changed. Besides making their movement less fuel consumptive and safer and comfortable, we have also managed to increase their speed by twenty-three times. For a long period – almost a century – during which steam engines held sway, the maximum speed of trains remained restricted from 49 to 62 kilometers per hour. No significant milestones in the areas of speed were set up during these years. This is mostly because, early on, trains were based on steam-powered and oil-powered engines. This put a significant limit on their movement capabilities without exhausting too much fuel. The real spurt in speed came after the introduction of electric and magnetic trains.
The era of high-speed trains was ushered in by electric-powered locomotives. With these locomotives, it became possible to nearly double the speed of trains. Among such trains, the Japanese train named Shinkansen achieved legendary fame and became known all over the globe as the “bullet train” on account of both its shape as well as speed. On the first October of 1964, several newspapers reported the event on their first page as a revolutionary development when this train displayed to the world the effectiveness of compound technology by moving at an unseen rate of 129 miles per hour. This cruising speed of the bullet train was unmatched in the world, and the technology that made it possible was unrivaled.
As of 2020, the current world record for the fastest railway train, however, belongs to state-of-the-art Japanese Maglev train (photo, above). Maglev is a short form of magnetic levitation. The speed record set up by this train is a whopping 361 miles per hour! The distinctive bit of tech that sets this train apart from others is the fact that it makes use of magnets to levitate off the ground, thereby making it the most efficient traveling vehicle on land with respect to speed.
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