Dedicated High Speed Rail in China

Colin Garratt, Director of Milepost 921⁄2 – Picture library and Photographers to the railway industry. Pictures by Andrew Benton –

The vastness of China
China has a population of 1.3 billion, about a fifth of the world’s total.

The nation’s economy is developing faster than any other country with 8.7 per cent growth in 2009. An inevitable parallel to a strong economy is huge increases in the mobility of the population and ground breaking investments in rail have long been an essential part of China’s economic strategy.

China Railways operates a network of some 86,000 kilometres; which is intended to increase to 110,000 in 2012 and a massive 120,000 by 2020. China Railways employs in excess of 2 million people.

Amongst its latest developments in rail is a breathtaking programme of building dedicated high speed rail routes.

Railways and the Peoples’ Republic
When the Peoples’ Republic of China was established in 1949, the railways were nationalised. This provided a stable basis for the development of an integrated national network; a priority for the new government.

Beijing was linked to all China’s provincial capitals. These routes have been constantly upgraded ever since, whilst in the intervening years many secondary and cross country lines have been added. A recent manifestation of this programme was the opening of the route to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, in 2006.

Despite the vastness of the network the massive growth of the last decade has seen many of these routes operating to capacity; innovative solutions were essential.

China’s railways are run by the Ministry of Railways which oversees the operation of regional railway bureaux. China Railways High Speed (CRH) was established under China Railways specifically to develop and run dedicated high speed passenger services across the country.

The advent of CRH
The CRH division was developed to build the dedicated passenger systems using EMUs running at speeds of up to 350 kph to connect major population hubs and bring increased prosperity to the hinterlands through which they passed.

Some achievements to date
China currently has 2,500 kilometres of dedicated high speed passenger lines and by 2020 intends to expand the high speed network to an incredible 25,000 kilometres. These lines, built at the cutting edge of rail technology, will be the vanguard of China’s railway development which will make it the world’s most advanced railway nation.

Some of these new lines are marvels of engineering. The Zheng Zhou-Xi’an line, which was opened earlier this year, is comprised of 79% viaducts, bridges and tunnels. The high speed line, which goes around the coast from Ningbo to Fuzhou, opened last September. This route includes the 8½ kilometre long Ningde Viaduct – the largest railway bridge in the world.

It has been reported that in 2009 China invested some 50 billion US dollars in its new high speed passenger rail systems and will invest more than 100 billion US dollars a year for the period to 2012.

Although the new lines are proudly China-designed and built, overseas companies like the UK’s Balfour Beatty and Mott MacDonald, along with Germany’s Siemens, are regularly involved. Mott MacDonald were chief supervising engineers for the Zheng Zhou- Xi’an line.

These new lines require a massive support infrastructure including stations, metro transport links in cities and modern signalling and safety systems. The construction of Beijing’s new South Station makes a bold statement about how China sees its railway future much as Britain did with its great stations over one and a half centuries ago.

On March 2nd the China Daily reported that the Beijing to Shanghai High Speed Railway Company Limited, of which the Ministry of Railways is the majority share holder, plans to raise up to 7.3 billion US dollars by initial public offering in 2010.

This is a new channel through which the Ministry of Railways is seeking funds for development in addition to the existing provision of
state funds and bonds. Work on the railway started in 2008 and it is expected to be completed in 2012 – it will reduce journey times between China’s two most important cities by well over half to about five hours.

Triumph of engineering
The rapidity with which China builds its new high speed lines is unequalled anywhere on earth. The ability to get things done is a hallmark of China’s society; it is enshrined in the pace and momentum with which the country moves.

The strictness of central government, which is both consistent and stable, ensures that projects are carried through without undue delay or dissent. The momentum of China permeates all levels, for instance a humble programme of road repairs which in Britain, for example, could take days to complete and cause enormous disruption and frustration would be done overnight in China. As one Chinese official said to me poignantly; “Our workers move like Charlie Chaplin did in your old movies”.

China’s High Speed Trains
The following trains currently in service were built in China under licence:
• CRH1 – derived from the Bombardier Regina.
Maximum speed 250 kph
• CRH2 – derived from the E2 Series Shinkansen.
Maximum speed 250 kph
• CRH3 – derived from the Siemens Velaro.
Maximum speed 350 kph
• CRH5 – derived from the Alstom Pendolino ETR600.
Maximum speed 250 kph.

Reduced journey times
The table (right) is an example of the time savings on some of China’s new high speed systems:

Luxury travel
China’s High Speed Trains are comfortable, direct and reduce travelling times by up to two thirds as the table shows. On board, the uniformed staff are well trained, proud of their jobs and invariably helpful.

The new routes have inevitably resulted in competition with air travel. China’s Southern Airline reports that a third of its national routes now suffer direct competition from the railways.

It is an enormous contrast with China’s traditional long distance rail travel when snippets of life from the window were a constant source of interest and fascination. With the new trains the rapidity with which China passes by is all consuming. (continued bottom right)

However, one thing makes up for this – a Special Class ticket can be bought for a journey on a CRH 3 and you sit directly behind the driver’s cab and have his view of the route through the glass partition.

A rail future
China’s investment in its railways presents a salutary example to all nations considering the role of their railway in the medium to long term future. China’s national planners have decreed that a massively improved railway network will be essential to the nation’s future prosperity and well being in addition to supporting increases in trade and development as the economy progresses.

China, like Britain, has experienced serious transport saturation. China’s response has been unequivocal – Britain’s needs to be the same.

5 Responses to "Dedicated High Speed Rail in China"

  1. The Green Leap Forward 绿跃进 » High-Tech Transportation for a Growing Nation says:

    […] already boasts a rail network that, including both standard and high-speed rail, is more than 53,000 miles long. And China plans for that network to reach 68,000 in 2012 and 75,000 by 2020. All of China’s […]

  2. Electricity is the Key « iLook China says:

    […] improve transportation in China, a grid of electrical powered high-speed rail will soon crisscross China.  China Railways operates a network of some 86,000 kilometers, which is […]

  3. Charles Hadley says:

    After the USA powers to be gave the banks $787 billion, president Hu gave to themselves $500 billion. All to aid Airports, schools, railways system, highway roads and hospitals, and he said we have that in the banks already, no debt will be acquired, thank you.
    By April 9 new systems opened. The 23rd I took the CRH from Wuhan to Shanghai. A very pleasant trip, so smooth, fast and very clean with noodle girls selling different needs, all the rail people treated us very good. In June wife and I took the CRH from Beijing to Wuhan, same very nice experience. Plus that added a great visualization of soo many trees all along the railway. Thank you Hu Jin Tau and thank you China.. I leave for China tomorrow for the 14th time and you know how we will be traveling once on the ground. Charles Hadley, ATP (PHD Aviation), CFIIM, A&P and Geographer. Retired young and happy.

  4. The Deepwater Oil Spill Exposes a Persistent Failure to Plan and Failure to Lead « Green Thoughts says:

    […] oil shortages and prices on China’s economic development.  China is in the process of building an extensive high-speed rail network (to Europe too)and is as well working on developing a lead in the area of battery powered vehicles. […]

  5. George T. Muller says:


    Our Group recently took the High speed train from Beijing to Jinzhounan and returned two days later. It was our first high speed train ride. We were very impressed to the smoothness of the ride and the friendliness of the crew. The trip was three hours one way.

    I noticed there were no crossings along the way only overpasses and under passes. Can you imagine the result of a train going that fast and hitting a truck or even a small car at those speeds. I have a picture of the read out of the speed at 246kph or 152mph.

    China has the advantage that it owns the land and can therefore place the rails most anywhere. It would be very expensive to build something like that in the states and the airlines would balk.

    George T. Muller

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