The Central Southern Chinese province of Jiangxi is in a rather awkward part of the country. Bordering three of the nation’s better well-off provinces, Jiangxi itself has been rather slow in getting its transport network done right. The current 4×4 HSR network only has one solitary west-east 350 km/h (217 mph) line, the Shanghai-Kunming HSR.
Some years back, a new 8×8 HSR network plan was officially approved. This added a few more 350 km/h HSR hub cities in Jiangxi, including Nanchang, the provincial capital, and Ganzhou, a bit of Jiangxi which is just maybe a few hours shy of Guangdong, that one of the most populated and well-off provinces in Southern China, if not across the entire land. With Ganzhou to be a new HSR interchange pretty much rising from the middle of nowhere, local entities in the city wanted to make this a huge deal, so they invited me — and […] I keynoted a rather unique HSR forum: they actually held it in the open (under the auspices of local businesses)…
So after a very brief welcome by the organisers, I went onstage keynoting the entire forum. The 10-minute talk focused on quite a few things I wanted to get across: Ganzhou’s position in the national rail network, attracting international brands thanks to improve rail links, and cases of successful HSR transfer connections and benefits to the cities — with Weihai, Shandong in China being the local example, and London (two stations: London Bridge and the Stratfords) and of course Zürich, Switzerland, being the two international case studies certainly worth a look. ▶
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. ▶
Sometimes, it’s the little things that make China’s HSR great. Like, say, the 261 km long Tianjin-Qinhuangdao HSR. At just 163 miles, this is hardly a major trunk line in one of the world’s largest countries, but it links the high speed lines between Beijing and northeastern China via Tianjin, Qinhuangdao, and the coast. This new line has allowed “full” HSR services to connect northeast China with Shanghai.
The new Zhengzhou-Xuzhou HSR isn’t massive, either, at “only” 362 km. Yet, for its mere 225 miles or so, this new line, good for speeds upwards of 350 km/h (217 mph), formed a crucial link — it was the first rail line good for such high speeds to connect between two of China’s most vital north-south HSR routes — the Beijing-Hong Kong and Beijing-Shanghai HSR routes. It also meant that my long-awaited connection from Xi’an (where I’ve ancestral roots) to Shanghai is finally reality. Most trains that run on this line “borrow” it to reach their final destination. ▶
Yesterday, I spoke to an Australian audience via audio Skype conference about how HSR worked in China. Everyone got carried away at the sheer dimensions of the system, but also how incredibly affordable it was. I started converting how much a train ticket equated to in terms of how much that ticket was worth in terms of Vegemite packs, something that got the audience in Australia roaring with laughter.
China started with steam, and they were still churning out steam engines until the late 1970s and early 1980s. Today, they’ve leapt over to HSR, with speeds up to 300 km/h or even faster. New trunk lines are being built to huge scales, and the Beijing-Shanghai HSR is already in operation, cutting the 1,318 km trek down to 5 hours or less (on the faster trains).
I also mentioned how much HSR has impacted China. Be that in terms of tourism, regional development, or ridership, it has had a visibly positive impact upon a veritable People’s Republic of billions. China’s HSR trainsets feature some of the nicest seats to travel upon (for example, in Business Class). ▶
I was invited on 03 March 2012 to a meeting I didn’t think I would actually end up going to, since it was probably “too” well-populated with distinguished academics and specialists. However, the independent Chinese website that ran the event (Du Jia Wang in Chinese, meaning Independent Views Web) told me that I was invited since I was considered a “major voice” on Sina Weibo (a kind of Twitter for China) on the topic of high speed rail in China.
Here are some of the views I made at the conference, which featured key strategists, intellectuals, and experts:
- The geographical characteristics of China means it needs HSR. Of its provincial capitals, almost all have a population of at least a million, with some having even more.
- High speed rail remains profitable. Profits, however small, are already being made on several lines, including the Shanghai-Nanjing Intercity HSR, and increased passenger numbers are being recorded on high speed lines from Beijing to Tianjin and Shanghai, with even stronger growth predicted.
- China has developed to the stage where it needs HSR. China has started from accelerated railways to the Maglev, and now runs HSR trains at around 300 km/h. It has done this gradually, as people have been better off.
- Deliberately slowing trains and downgrading speed standards on new trunk lines is a bad idea. This will mean wasted money, very little expenses saved, and a cut in efficiency. It is recommended that only slower lines are built first so to avoid downgraded lines being built.
- HSR is key to China and its general strategy. It is a green, fast, and sensible choice for China in the wider transport system. ▶