News that China is developing high speed trains with a maximum speed up to 500km/h may arouse the interests of frequent rail travelers in the country.A high speed train is seen at Zhengzhou Railway Station, Henan Province. Picturen taken on February 6. [Xinhua]
If you have ever taken a train during the so-called "Spring Festival travel rush", you will know clearly how important rail transportation is to the country and its people: Hundreds of millions of homesick students, migrant workers and those living outside their hometowns flock to railway stations around the country to board crowded trains!
Only in 1993, the average speed of China's commercial train service was just 48.1km/h. Since 1997, railway authorities have launched a series of "speed up" campaigns aiming at improving the service speed and capacity of existing railway lines and also set up an ambitious plan to develop a national high-speed rail grid.
Now having the world's longest high speed rail network with over 3,300 km of service routes, China has been dazzling the world with its glorious achievements in this field.
Statistics from the Ministry of Railway shows that now some 10,000 km of rail tracks are capable of carrying trains traveling at speeds of at least 200 km/h while the country's total railway length is about 86,000 km.
Not only specially-built rails are needed for a high speed rail network, modern trains manufactured with cutting-edge technology are also indispensible as it is almost impossible for a traditional train to travel at a speed up to 200 km/h and above.
Professor Li Heping with China Academy of Railway Sciences confirmed the report about the development of 500km/h new high speed train with the China Daily Website.
He said the prototype train is being manufactured now and they hope it could make a trail run at a speed of over 400km/h before the end of this year. However, the professor also emphasized that the new car is just for scientific research rather than going into mass production.
Currently, there are four types of high speed trains in service in China, namely the CRH1, CRH2, CRH3 and CRH5, of which CRH2 and CRH3 could reach a maximum speed of 350km/h.
China introduced up-to-date foreign technology and manufactured the above four types of train by itself.
Apart from the already in service trains and the 500km/h one, two high speed train manufactories in the country, China CNR Corporation Limited and China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Corporation Limited, are both developing a new train with the maximum speed of up to 380km/h for the 1,318km-long on building Beijing-Shanghai High Speed Railway.
"Both the two manufacturers will launch prototype trains within this year and their maximum test speed must exceed 420km/h so as to leave an adequate safety margin," said Professor Huang Qiang also from China Academy of Railway Sciences.
He revealed that with a service life of 20 years, the new trains will have better aerodynamic performance and each train set has larger power.
Saving time but you have to pay more
Taking high speed trains, you could shorten travel time significantly but have to pay a higher ticket price.
For instance, travelling from Beijing to Zhengzhou of Henan Province, price for a hard seat is 94 yuan ($13.8) in an ordinary train and the price for a second class seat (similar as hard seat) as high as 213 yuan ($31.2) in a high speed train, which is 40 minutes quicker than the fastest ordinary train.
"The price for a high speed train is too high. I may take it if I have something urgent but I also have to take the ticket price into consideration," said Shangguan Zhoudong, a 28-year-old man who has travelled between the two cities many times.
But in some routes, taking a high speed train is much more time-saving. For example, you could cut your travelling time from 6 hours to 2.5 hours in the Zhengzhou-Xi'an High Speed Railway while paying for a 3 times higher ticket price.
Many people have complained the price for a high speed train is sometimes even higher than that of discount airline ticket.
Responding to the public concern, Liu Zhijun, the railway minister, said the price of high speed trains in China is the lowest in the world and taking high speed train is the most economical way of travelling.
In fact, building high speed railway is an expensive project.
"The cost for building ordinary railway is 30 million yuan ($4.4 million) per kilometer while the number for high speed rail is 120-150 million yuan ($17.6 million - $22 million)," professor Li told the China Daily Website.
"Besides, the enterprises that operate railway transportation are not non-profit organizations and have to take the cost into consideration. It is unrealistic to require the price of high speed train tickets the same as that of ordinary trains," he added.
Professor Huang Qiang suggests the authorities offer discounts for railway tickets during slack business seasons.
"The original price of an airline ticket is quite high, but they offer discount, it's quite clever. People may make comparison between the price of high speed trains and the discount ticket price of flights, many of which depart at night and are unwelcome among passengers," Huang said.
Future of High Speed Rail in China
According to the new railway network expansion program unveiled in 2008, China will have 120,000-kilometer-long railway by 2020, of which 16,000 kilometers are dedicated passenger lines where trains could reach a speed of 200km/h and above.
"By 2012, about 12,000-13,000 kilometers long dedicated passenger lines will be put into operation and I believe our transportation capacity could increase dramatically. It will not be so hard to get a railway ticket then as it is now," Professor Li explained.
Professor Huang has an optimistic expectation for China's passenger railway transportation in 2020. He believes since the transportation capacity could satisfy the huge demand then, the current pre-selling system of railway tickets could even be canceled.
"In 2020, taking a train will be like taking a bus. You take the train directly you come to the station," said Huang.
China is not only endeavoring to perfect its domestic rail transportation grid but also has an ambitious plan to cooperate with other countries to connect the Eurasia with high speed railway network.
In early March, Wang Mengshu, a senior consultant on China's domestic high-speed rail project, told Hong Kong-based newspaper South China Morning Post that China plans to extend its domestic high speed rails to Central, East and Southeast Asia and is in negotiations with relevant countries.
If the great plan could come true, the newly-built network will connect the current high-speed rail network in Europe, which means passengers will take only two days traveling from London to Beijing, according to British Newspaper the Daily Mail.
Professor Li Heping confirmed such a plan to China Daily Website but emphasized it is just a plan and its realization relies on the cooperation and coordination with many neighboring countries.
"Technically speaking, the plan is totally feasible. (With such a network), many (goods) could be transported via the high speed rail rather then relying on ocean shipping," said Li.
When asked about the problem of some countries' using different rail gauges, the professor answered, "We certainly hope they could change their rail gauge so our trains will not need to change the wheel while crossing the border."
South China Morning Post's report said the construction of this huge rail network could be completed in 2025 at the earliest, if agreements could be reached among all relevant countries.