On 01 August 2008, China did what no other country on Planet Earth did — operate trains at 350 km/h (217 mph). On 23 July 2011, the horrendous Wenzhou crash happened, killing 40. The then-head of the mainland Chinese railway authorities, Sheng Guangzu, had little recourse but to ask the prime minister to lower speeds to 300 km/h (186 mph).
Sheng retired in late 2016. However, it was under his administration that work started in earnest on an “all-Chinese” trainset, the CR Revival Express (a train which was also made inherently safer and better at higher speeds).
That very same screamer sped out of Beijing South in the morning hours of 21 September 2017, with yours truly onboard Train G1. Top speed reached 350 km/h (217 mph). Once again, China had the world’s fastest train. ▶
Looks like TEDx won’t be mobile any time soon… Still, if there was anything close to this, on the rails, China.org seems to have pulled it off with its Zhen Xiang series of talks — one topic, many voices and ideas. In the course of just 90 minutes, we had three talks, with me being the second one, all about railways in China, and especially the epic High Speed network. It started with a rail vehicle expert from CRRC, Mr Deng, and ended with award-winning HSR Chief Conductor Ms Li Yuan.
My talk was more about my experience on the Chinese rails — and also how it began with Swiss roots. Also, my documentary was mentioned as well — how can you not mention something that’s hit around 150 stations so far?
I’ve seen the railways during good times and bad. The expansion and brave forward-looking new projects of the late 2000s and early 2010s. How the railways were hanging in by just a thread in the wake of the terrible Wenzhou disaster in 2011. The recent recovery, starting in late 2013, and continuing through to this present day. China’s undergoing a rail revival, and it’s big as with travellers inside the country as it is with those outside. ▶
Looks like I can’t quite stop talking about trains…
The China Communication Forum, held at Xiamen University, had me as a speaker about trains, of course. But instead of the tech-Sheldon-ish aspects, it was far more about the Arteries of Communications — a term “born” of this conference, which in particular fitted into my talk well on the trains and what they mean.
The arteries had roots in China with its first high speed lines in the 2000s. As the network expanded, more of China became connected. Of course routes started running to the frontiers, but also further more in the heartland and across the seafront. Eventually, the network became so big, previously planned networks were being realised years ahead — such as the 2020 goal, which was realised 5 years ahead of time. ▶
The Canadian settlement of Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! shares a similarity with this post — it is one of the very few such posts on my domain to end in an exclamation mark! But it finally happened: I got to talk to hundreds and hundreds of PR crew at China Railway — particularly those doing new media posts.
For a moment I just couldn’t believe this was happening. It was just f*cking epic. (Sorry.) OK, granted, I had spoken to rail crew about dumping Chinglish for proper English — but these were more local, confined to a particular geographic area of China. To pretty much have representatives of the entire nationwide network in front of you was not something the average, totally random mere mortal could really pull off. ▶
This new line goes through an incredibly mountainous part of Central and Western China, zipping through Tianshui, Dingxi, and other stations. Along with wife Tracy, I got to ride on the new line out from Xi’an North to Xining, incorporating the Baoji-Lanzhou bit, and got a look at Lanzhou West Railway Station. (Some have deemed that to be one of the lesser well-done HSR hubs, but I see it quite differently.)
Much of the line appeared to be familiar to me — remember I had been to all stations on the Xi’an-Baoji HSR, so it was only after we left Baoji South that the new bit of the line meant I was looking out the window. Quite a bit. Or at that, just a bit. The new high speed line went through probably a million tunnels, this being a very mountainous part of China.
When we did have a look at the countryside, I had to look very closely at a station we were only going to zip through — Dongcha Railway Station. Media interviews included me looking away to see if I’d finally snapped Dongcha station (I did do that on tape, or rather video), as the station was very unique. Initially it was intended only to be a place where trains would overtake one other — ie let slower trains take a breather whilst faster ones zipped by. However, they eventually converted this to a proper station. And not any station: Dongcha would feature, as I saw on pics released just before the line opened to the general public, a rather long, all-enclosed elevated walkway from the station building to the platforms, as they weren’t exactly under the HSR rail line viaduct. ▶
So after filming three more stations on 27 June 2017, we got back to Beijing late that evening and hopped right onto Train G123 the next day. Yes, 48 hours late, somewhat inexcusable for the Shanzhai Sheldon Cooper of Beijing, but oh well.
The new Revival Express train is in red. This to me is an excellent choice for colour… even before 1949, red was seen as a very Chinese colour. When people got married, it’s known as a “red party”. Enterprises are established at lavish parties where guests of honour wear “red tags” with a red flower and baskets of flowers (fake or real) are draped with ribbons of red. Over Chinese New Year, money is stuffed in red packets. Coincidentally, the present-day largest-denomination banknote, CNY 100.—, is pinkish-red. Red was also the colour of the walls around Tian’anmen, Zhongnanhai, and the Forbidden City. So it made sense to have a red train literally in the China of the same colour! ▶
It’s a funny kind of day, and it’s all about trains. Brilliant skies today in this part of Central Western China as I’m on my way out west to Baoji (never tried that on the new HSR line), and the launch of the new Revival trains on the Beijing-Shanghai HSR. All trains, promised. But the big thing: TEDx.
To have mic access as a keynote speaker as in being the first onstage — that was something I hadn’t been expecting for quite a while. But to do this on the TEDx stage as the lead speaker was just absolutely wild.
My 18 minute talk (which I nailed with only about half a minute more to spare) was about my documentary, Next Station: China, that’s in the making, but far more also about how I’ve come to discover and appreciate the views, the items evoking curiosity, and the plain unexpected in doing this documentary. ▶
It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve stepped back into that live studio at Radio Beijing (as in the English-language services)… The show was Touch Beijing, a live show mostly in English, but with a fair bit of spoken Mandarin Chinese as well. I came in around 25 minutes past the hour (17:25 or so), for my 20-ish minutes of fame (or so). The rail documentary I was doing, Next Station: China, took, of course, centre stage.
Up to this point, I had “sped up” going to stations — I literally just returned yesterday from Shidu Railway Station, Station 51 right by the mountains in southwestern Beijing. The past 50 journeys have seen me around much of Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, He’nan, and Shandong, but also as far south as Hu’nan! Were there a few of my favourites already? Absolutely. Old Regular Rail stations made up for the bulk of unexpected discoveries. ▶
That’s me having just completed an interview with Radio Beijing about the Next Station: China trip I’m doing right now. Finish all railway stations on the mainland of China by early 2022. (Now you just have to make a real effort!)
I’ve really been into discovering stations since I stumbled upon the Tanggu-Beijing high speed trains (I thought they used to go only as far as Central Tianjin). Since that time, I’ve been hooked. Unhappy with “just” Beijing South, Tianjin, and Shanghai being the sole three stations I’ve visited and taken a trip from in 2008, I’ve been dreaming of doing a “rail stations atlas”. The documentary, hopefully, will make this one come alive. ▶
About the most ridiculous “cutesy Chinese girly phrase” these days is the über-cute — and at that, extremely infantile — Coffee, tea, or me?. But there is something less silly in the form of trains — and the stations they call at.
There’s a whole new website out — Next Station: China — which is my new documentary, going after all national railway stations in China. Of course, Geoff Marshall and Vicki Pipe of All the Stations must also have all the fun going after an equally big network in the UK (there are 2,306 stations in China — mainland only, so far — the UK has 2,500+ stations — you lucky people!). Also, it’d be kind of cool if two rail documentaries were being shot at the same time across two countries.
The idea is to completely visit every single station open to the public on the mainland of China, They must be open to all (locals and expats), and have full ticketing facilities. I myself won’t be too happy with a mere stop-push-door-open-button-snap-push-door-close-button-go jaunt. I’m allowing myself upwards of nearly five years to totally explore the network, at a time when the HSR network is being doubled from a 4×4 network to an 8×8 one. ▶