During Japan’s period of Industrial expansion in the 1960s, it was realised that the narrow gauge rail network would no longer meet the increasing passenger demand. Although air travel continued to expand, a new standard gauge railway was built between the capital of Tokyo and the industrial centre of Osaka to the south. The trains were styled to look like contemporary aircraft but the rounded nose led to the name “bullet trains”. This was an outstanding success, and the network was extended to areas north and west of Tokyo. This provided speeds in excess of 200km/h, a speed which was just attainable on the better standard gauge tracks in Europe by the late 1960s.
The French had claimed the Paris-Lyons line as having the fastest trains in the world by the early 1950s, but increasing demand meant that the Japanese solution of a new parallel line was required. Unlike the Japanese lines which were engineered to be virtually level, the French planned to follow the topography and rely on momentum and a high power to weight ratio to ensure a consistent high speed. Not only was this a success, but increasingly larger trains were required to meet the demand.
The pattern having been set, new high speed lines were extended through Europe, and were adopted in Korea, China and Taiwan and higher speed trains were introduced on existing lines elsewhere. High Speed Rail is now an established alternative to shorter distance air travel, as speeds have increased form just above 200 km/h in the 1960s to just below 400 km/h today.
The UK diesel high speed train was a dramatic success in the late 1970s, while tilting trains were being developed. This was the basis of the Australian XPT and is still regarded as a top line train in England.
The XPT trains were introduced in 1981/82, having been given much publicity just before a State election in 1981, well before they were able to enter traffic. They were introduced briefly as a premium class train requiring a surcharge over first class fares (even for seating designed as economy class) running alongside the 1949 locomotive hauled air conditioned trains. They were a technical success and additional cars and power units were obtained in 1983/84, 1986/87, and finally with the agreement of the Victorian government, again in 1993, including sleeping cars for the overnight services. They now work all services on the North Coast line including to Brisbane and south to Melbourne with one service west to Dubbo.
When the split between country and interurban services occurred, the name “Inter City” passed to the City Rail organisation for their longer distance trains, and a few power cars ran with only the letters “XPT” on the sides. However, by January 1990, a new colour scheme of white, grey turquoise and dark blue was introduced, initially on the Dubbo service which was a captive set. This scheme, to which the name “Countrylink” was later added on the power car side panels, was retained up to 2005 when the present scheme with light blue bands on the cars merging with dark blue on the power cars was introduced.
Other Australian trains covered include: the Diesel Tilt Train, the Electric Tilt Train, Prospector, Avon Link, Velocity, Explorer, Endeavour, and Hunter.
Peter Clark is a professional mechanical engineer with experience in Australian Railways, including specific involvement in rail and wheel interaction studies on heavy haul railways in Australia. He has written two books on locomotives, An Australian Diesel Locomotive Pocketbook and Locomotives in China.