■ 08:01 (UTC+08:00), 01 JAN 2018 | CHN ONBOARD TRAIN G5
I used to take High Speed trains in China for granted, especially in the earlier years. The horrific Wenzhou crash changed all that. Yes the PR guy at the railways did say truly ridiculous things back then. But then you get over this whole thing, and rethink HSR and the benefits it has created for the country. Which was why I returned to the High Speed rails in October 2011 (September 2011 was my “protest month”, where I did Classic only, and no High Speed).
Starting from 2012, I’ve decided to, as much as possible, travel on High Speed trains on the very first day of the year. I’ve been able to do this for 2012, 2013, and 2017. Last year I was seen off at the station by some of the best people in the rail industry here around Beijing. This year, it’s my wife, Tracy, coming with me onboard the Revival Express, the fastest train in not just China, but also the world.
The train behind me is Train G5, operated by CR Shanghai. This is the very first 350 km/h (217 mph) train for the day, and is therefore the very first of its kind for this year. We are starting off the year 2018 on the world’s fastest train, and the very first fastest-train-on-the-planet for the new year. We’re sending an extremely strong signal of approval and support for our trains, as it’s made China that much smaller, closer together, and greener.
We have seen weak and powerful rail administrations, and Lu Dongfu’s new admin, coming in from autumn 2016, has re-made the rails in China. We’ve seen the end of the “decelerate-and-downgrade” mass campaign, improvements in online ticketing, a more common-sense ticket replacement policy, a refresh of the departures hall at Beijing South, and the introduction of the first truly Chinese HSR trainset, the CR Revival Express. Remember a mere seven years ago, we were treated to worse (slowing down of trains, downgrading new trunk lines, horrific Chinglish on station name signage). So we know that these improvements cannot be taken for granted, and that the rail network depends on the support of not just people in the know, like Tracy and I, but also the travelling public.
We’ve seen the past year as one where, with the railways, foundations laid were made more solid and enforced better, standards as promised were achieved (certainly on Hainan), the quality of the rail services has improved a lot (cutting travel times was great), and lots of this became more efficient. We’re seeing a China that’s now linked closer and better by rail. I used to fly around the country. That’s not happening a lot more these days. We’ve an epic rail network — we should be proud passengers of the system.
The past year has also seen a lot of me and the trains, with the TEDx keynote in the early summer, and a repeat appearance on the trains a few months later, easily being the highlights. The other major highlight was the 350 km/h (217 mph) trains on the Beijing-Shanghai HSR, making China once again that very nation with the world’s fastest trains. With me, trains take centre stage, even into the new year. Look for a lot more of me, and Tracy, with the trains, going forward. Please get ready for your arrival! ■ ■ ■