The increasing movement of people and products caused by modern economic dynamics has burdened transportation systems. Both industrialized and developing countries have faced transportation problems in urbanized regions and in their major intercity corridors. Regional and highway congestion have become a chronic problem, causing longer travel times, economic inefficiencies, deterioration of the environment and quality of life. Congestion problems are also occurring at airports and air corridors, with similar negative effects. In the medium distance travel market (from 160 up to 800 km), too far to drive and too short to fly, High Speed Rail (HSR) technology has emerged as a modern transportation system, as it is the most efficient means for transporting large passenger volumes with high speed, reliability, safety, passenger comfort and environmental performance. HSR system’s feasibility will depend on its capacity to generate social benefits (i.e. increased mobility rates, reduced congestion, capacity increase and reduced environmental costs), to be balanced with the high construction, maintenance and operational costs. So, it is essential to select HSR corridors with strong passenger demands to maximize these benefits. The first HSR line was Japan’s Shinkansen service, a dedicated HSR system, between Tokyo and Osaka, launched in 1964, which is currently the most heavily loaded HSR corridor in the world. France took the next step, launching the Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV), in 1981, with a dedicated line with shared-use segments in urban areas, running between Paris and Lyon. Germany joined the venture in the early 1990 with the Inter City Express – ICE, with a coordinated program of improvements in existent rail infrastructure and Spain, in 1992, with the Alta Velocidad Espanola – AVE, with dedicated greenfield lines. Since then, these systems have continuously expanded their network. Currently, many countries are evaluating the construction of new HSR lines, with European Commission deeming the expansion of the Trans European Network as a priority. United Kingdom, for example, has just awarded construction contracts for building the so called HS2, an HSRexpanded line linking London to the northern territory. China, with its dynamic economic development, has launched its HSR network in 2007 and has sped up working on its expansion, and currently holds the highest HSR network. United States, which currently operates high speed trainsets into an operationally restricted corridor (the so called Northeast Corridor (NEC), linking Washington, New York and Boston), has also embarked into the high speed rail world with the launch of Californian HSR Project, currently under construction, aimed to link Los Angeles to San Francisco mega regions, the ongoing studies for Texas HSR project, to connect Dallas to Houston, into a wholly privately funding model, as well as studies for a medium to long term NEC upgrade for HSR. Australia and Brazil are also seeking to design and launch their first HSR service, into a time consuming process, in which a deep discussion about social feasibility and affordability is under way. This work is supposed to present an overview of HSR technology worldwide, with an assessment of the main technical, operational and economical features of Asian and European HSR systems, followed by a snapshot of the general guidelines applied to some planned HSR projects, highlighting their demand attraction potential, estimated costs, as well as their projected economic and environmental benefits.

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