The Shanghai Maglev routinely operates at 268 mph. (Photo: Tom Page / Flickr)The Shanghai Maglev routinely operates at 268 mph. (Photo: Tom Page / Flickr)

Have you heard about the Hyperloop?

If not, allow me to get you up to speed. The Hyperloop borrows ideas from a 1920s mailroom for transportation. The system, proposed by inventor Elon Musk of Tesla fame, would use an enormous pneumatic tube to rocket cabins on frictionless cushions of air at speeds of up to 800 miles per hour. Musk predicts that a trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles could take about 30 minutes. It's like the old intra-office mail, except for instead of small brass tunnels shuttling memos through the building, it uses giant above-ground tubes carrying aluminum cabins.

In short, it's about the most futuristic way of getting from point A to point B we're likely to see until they finally get that teleportation thing right.

Still, Musk's proposal for the Hyperloop put us in mind of another, older form of transportation that also runs on pre-built lines: trains. They've been around for a very long time, but not all rail journeys are created equal. So, in honor of this writer's hopes of one day making it from Chicago to New York City in under an hour, here are the eight best train rides in the world.

1. The Shanghai Maglev – China

There's no messing around with the Shanghai express. This train makes the list because it skipped the frills and the frippery and went straight for what commuters care about: speed. Once topping out at a blazing 311 miles per hour during a speed test, this is one of the fastest trains in the world, connecting riders with the Shanghai International Airport and the city's metro system in less than ten minutes.

It also gets points for style. As a maglev, this train runs its entire route suspended on a bed of air slightly above the tracks. No contact between wheels and rails means that the entire system is frictionless, allowing the train to become one of the fastest things moving across the surface of the Earth (sorry, cheetahs). Although the top operating speed is "only" 268 mph, that's still considerably faster than China’s runner up, China Railways' CRH380A, topping out at 236 mph day-to-day.

Riding this train is an extraordinary experience, but it may not stay on top of the pile for long. Hyperloop aside, Japan is testing a new generation of L0 maglev trains set to actually operate at 310 miles per hour. Shanghai has some breathing room, though; although it's been successfully tested, the L0 isn't set to come online until 2027.

The Indian Pacific crosses southern Australia's mountains and deserts. (Photo: Peter Shanks / Flickr)The Indian Pacific crosses southern Australia's mountains and deserts. (Photo: Peter Shanks / Flickr)

2. The Indian Pacific – Australia

The Indian Pacific railway is pretty much exactly what you'd expect when Australia decides to build itself a train: extreme. This route crosses the entire south of the country, running from Sydney to Perth and back on a weekly basis. That's not because the Great Southern Rail company is lazy; it's because a single trip takes four days and covers 2,704 miles.

That's a lot of drop bears.

It's also an extraordinary journey. More than 90 percent of Australia's population is clustered around the coasts, meaning any trip of more than 100 miles happens more or less in the world's largest nature preserve. From the Indian Pacific you can see the entire southern outback roll by the windows — an opportunity to see the country by land in the only way, I can assure my readers, that they would ever want to risk.

As the reigning king of travel writers, Bill Bryson, wrote in his book “In a Sunburned Country”: "To Australians anything vaguely rural is 'the bush.' At some indeterminate point 'the bush' becomes 'the Outback.' Push on for another two thousand miles or so and eventually you come to bush again, and then a city, and then the sea. And that's Australia." That's about right.

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