Travel: Green Channel, Red Channel

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Trains are kinder to the world than cars, so the fact that railways around the world are accelerating is good news. The 1997 World Rail Speed Survey published by Railway Gazette International shows Japan has stolen the fastest train title from France with the new bullet train. It travels between Hiroshima and Kokura at an average speed of 162.7mph.

France reverts to second place for the first time since TGV services between Paris and Lyon were launched in 1983. The current fastest train in France averages 158mph, between Lille and Charles de Gaulle airport. Climbing rapidly to third place are cross-border high-speed trains, such as Thalys between France and Belgium, Cisalpino between Italy and Switzerland, and Eurostar between Britain and France.

While in the UK, Eurostar is limited to 100mph. Britain's best efforts are on the Great North Eastern Railway, which limps in sixth with 112mph for the London-York run, and on Great Western's London-Bristol corridor. Not far behind, and catching up fast, are Poland (in 13th place), China (15th) and Saudi Arabia (16th).

red channel

The compiler of the Railway Gazette International survey, Colin Taylor, warns that speed freaks heading for Nepal and Eritrea are likely to be disappointed. Dr Taylor computes the fastest trains in all the world's nations with railways. It is possible, therefore, to assess the countries with the slowest fastest trains. He believes that the winner/loser is Nepal where the fastest express averages just 6.5mph during a 90-minute journey - about half the speed of a city cyclist. Dr Taylor said yesterday that he believed it may have stopped running (though a cynic might say that, at such a low speed, it would be tricky to tell), in which case Eritrea takes the prize with a train averaging 11mph.

Dr Taylor was speaking at King's Cross station in London, where he was launching an attempt at the world's longest rail journey, from Vila Real on the Portuguese Algarve to the Vietnamese capital, Ho Chi Minh City. Among the many hazards threatening to derail the 11,000-mile trip are flooding on the German/Polish border, strikes and random cancellations. Leaves on the line are not expected to be a problem.