Chinese High Speed Rail: A Public Beta I’d Go For

Posted by on Aug 14, 2011 in China, Trains | No Comments

23:52 (UTC+08:00), 14 AUG 2011 | CHN BEIJING

The fact that I arrived back in Beijing in late August 2000 to a China where the fastest trains were just 160 km/h (for Guangzhou, up to 200 km/h) and nationwide ticketing was not available, to the fact that the fastest Chinese trains run, as of this post, at speeds just over 350 km/h, is just purely amazing. I travelled on a 350 km/h G train sitting the wrong way, and didn’t barf: it’s a sign at just how stable the Chinese HSR network is.

But the whole network is just about a few years old. It’s still in a bit of a public beta, and it can crash — as the Wenzhou crash showed us — and when that happened it was pretty tragic. Nearly 50 lives lost, and brutal manhandling by the railway authorities, who preferred to bury people alive than to save any lives. It’s a system so paralysed by bad press, and so demented at the wrong time, that despatch ordered drivers to “go invisible” and cared less about faster trains rear-ending “invisible” trains.

Yet despite this, I’m setting the record straight:—

  • China needs high speed rail, imported or homemade (there need for freight transport is too big, and this nation will keep on growing);
  • China needs high speed rail because the air system is a mess (delays hours on end are just part of airport life — even if you have a private lounge it is still very annoying);
  • China needs high speed rail because of Petrus and Iceland (Petrus is Swiss-German for the weather gods, and Iceland reminds us to the awful volcanic ash plumes shutting down western European air space in spring 2010).

I’m also retweaking my train travel preference as such:—

  • I’m not dumping the plane this time. A sensible A-to-B system won’t exclude any means of transport. For travel within 1,000 km, as well as trips from Beijing to Shanghai or the northeast, these will form the sole exceptions.
  • I’m only doing HSR on “safe” routes. There are a few unsafe routes, such as Ningbo-Fuzhou or Shijiazhuang-Taiyuan, but most are generally regarded as either safe or relatively safe.
  • I’m only doing trips for non-personal trips. Basically, the trains have to get me to my involvements. I’ve a busy schedule in Beijing so travels won’t be daily, but it’ll still be a frequent thing.

Finally, there will be no set mileages for 2011 or any subsequent years. The present mileage is around 15,034 km for this year, which has already exceeded that of last year by just over a thousand kilometres. There will also be no preference for HSR-only reference over that for regular rail.

I’m looking forward to taking Chinese trains again, which will include D trains on well-established lines. As the Swiss say, smart people travel in trains. Long live the thing that gets you places on time without making you turn off your mobile phone!