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Track Stars

The following rail projects are in various stages of development.

Distance: 403 miles
Old time: 5 hr., 43 min. New time: 3 hr., 55 min.
Train leaves the station in: 2003
The Scots may have something to say about easing the trip up north for the English, but Virgin Rail plans to significantly accelerate service between these two cities. Richard Branson's company recently purchased 53 Pendolinos, Italian tilting trains that can run on existing track at 140 mph.

Distance: 18 miles
Old time: 45 min. (by car) New time: 7 min.
Train leaves the station in: 2003
In China, you don't exactly travel by train so much as slog, but the country's rail system is about to take a great leap forward. Last March, Shanghai's government—in partnership with the German consortium Transrapid International—broke ground on a maglev line that will shuttle visitors from the airport to the financial district six times as quickly as a car.

Distance: 214 miles
Old time: 3 hr., 30 min. New time: 1 hr., 27 min.
Train leaves the station in: 2005
Not to be outdone by the mainland, Taiwan has shelled out nearly $3 billion to buy Japanese bullet trains and is building dedicated tracks between its capital and principal port city. Some Taiwanese high-tech firms would like to derail the project, worried that vibrations from the trains will damage electronics manufactured at an industrial park next to the proposed route.

Distance: 85 miles
Old time: 1 hr., 30 min. (by car) New time: 55 min.
Train leaves the station in: 2011
Critics have derided it as a Mickey Mouse operation, but last November Florida's voters directed the state to build what will be America's fastest rail system. The project, which would improve the two cities' chances of hosting the 2012 Olympic Games, recently received a boost from Amtrak president George Warrington, who called it a top priority.

Distance: 172 miles
Old time: 3 hr. New time: 57 min.
Train leaves the station in: 2050 at the earliest
The engineers (some say dreamers) at Lausanne Federal Institute of Technology envisage a series of partial-vacuum tunnels, called Swissmetro, that would link the nation's major cities. With most of the air pumped out of these narrow concrete tubes, drag would be virtually eliminated, enabling a missile-shaped, pressurized levitation train to go 250 mph—provided door air locks in the stations work perfectly, and passengers don't evaporate when they disembark.


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