Going Faster: Bullet Trains and High-speed Lines

By the 1960s, the railroads were competing against automobiles, semitrucks, and airplanes. Politicians and civil servants thought the railroad age was coming to an end—an outmoded form of travel that belonged to the 19th rather than the late 20th century—and governments chose to invest in highways and roads that provided the convenience of door-to-door travel instead. Car ownership soared, semitrucks started hauling freight, and commercial flights took off, heralding the dawn of the jet age. To counter these trends, railroad services needed modernization. It was the Japanese who led the way with the groundbreaking Shinkansen (“new mainline”), known in the West as the bullet train. It started a ...

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