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. ▶