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. ▶
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. ▶
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. ▶
Lucky Yunnan! They’re officially part of the Chinese national HSR network as of today, with the opening in full of the Shanghai-Kunming HSR, including the just-opened-part between Kunmingnan (Kunming South) and Guiyangbei (Guiyang North) termini.
Of course Twitter was all abuzz with this… With me just recently verified on the service, how can you not expect this to be big news? For a part of the country “starved” of any fast, reliable rail service, the opening of the Shanghai-Kunming HSR seemed to be the news of the day.
Except for it wasn’t. In addition to getting the new HSR to Guiyang and Shanghai opened, there were two other express routes opened today — a new line to Guangxi (terminating ultimately in Nanning) and a short sprinter service to Yuxi. I’ll have to try both of these another day. ▶
I’ve seen quite a fair bit of railway stations by now — the good, and the bad; the well thought-out, and the absolute horrendous. Yujiapu fits none of these four because it’s magic that’s bound to take you away.
OK so not quite. I got in early on the train out from Beijing South. Because I wanted to get some real work done, I travelled in Business Class (pretty much all the time, really). The journey out was not too dissimilar with the previous HSR-then-regular-rail journeys I did, except of course we now travelled on the new 350 km/h (217 mph) line, passing through Junliangcheng North station enroute. And then we parted ways, with the HSR trunk line to Northeastern China heading further northeast, whilst we stayed further east, then slightly due southeast, with Tanggu the first station that could be served.
But the bit after Tanggu was new. We went underground and of course, that could mean only one thing: Yujiapu was an underground HSR station. Of course, it was a “regular” underground station with nothing fancy such as platform edge doors, so it was just putting the train station underground rather than above ground. I didn’t have enough time to snap a pic as I got out of the train. ▶
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. ▶
Photo credit: Liang Bo
That’s me doing Rail English again for China. Just a few days back, I was appointed Railway English Consultant for Ji’nanxi (Ji’nan West) and its subordinate stations, which include stations from Taian to Zaozhuang. Some time earlier, I also did much the same at Xuzhoudong (Xuzhou East) station, which basically meant that if you’re travelling between these stations, you should see serious improvements in Rail English.
As of late there’s one other very welcoming development: the Beijing-Shanghai HSR has been showered by the central government in China, giving it top honours in a national science and technology progress awards ceremony.
It is no secret this is now one of China’s busiest HSR routes. Trains G1 through to G22, which generally run the 1,318 km (824 mi) stretch in less than 5 hours’ time, are amongst the most popular trains in the nation, both amongst locals and expats, as well as visitors from abroad. With the line as popular and as award-winning as it is, the next big goal my end would be to make it China’s first 100% bilingual line. ▶
10:40 (Beijing time), Friday, 11 December 2015. Chinese immigration authorities stamp me in — getting me back home. Yep, the Jing is home: how can the place you were born to not conceivably be home?
10:28, Sunday, 13 December 2015. Train G121 departs from Platform 16, Beijingnan Railway Station. Within 48 hours of touching down back in Beijing, I’m on the rails.
I have committed myself to the best of the Chinese rails because they deserve it. A system that started out life as the fastest, most efficient intercity service and is now home to over half the world’s HSR rails (making it by far the largest network in any country on the planet) had its darkest moments in the weeks and months following the fatal 23 July 2011 crash in Wenzhou, southeastern China. All it took for me to nearly abandon it for good was one utterly irresponsible Wang Yongping, then railways PR spokesperson, who was being blatantly crass and rude to media and the general public. Within months, though, I had started on a correction course, and by early 2012, emerged as one of the most vocal and active supporters for HSR. ▶
Call it the 287 kilometres of HSR that mattered. That actually built bridges.
The month of December is when China’s HSR network will break that crucial 10,000 km barrier, and the new Tianjin-Qinhuangdao High Speed Railway started this breakneck “HSR Month”. A few other new lines, including Xi’an-Baoji, Xiamen-Shenzhen, and a new link from Hengyang East to Nanning, will make China’s HSR trains go just about all over the place.
The new Tianjin-Qinhuangdao HSR that opened today seems to be a mere minnow — it is just over 250 km in length. Yet these crucial miles connect two of China’s most important north-south HSR lines: Beijing-Harbin and Beijing-Shanghai. They are merely preparing the new line today: look for the real train service zoo in late December, when Harbin-Shanghai services will be offered. ▶
(Read on to understand why a non-David Feng person is here.)
It’s no mistake I’ve been out and about as of late. What did we have in the past 6 weeks… Shanghai, Hangzhou, Zhenjiang, Hefei, Shijiazhuang, Harbin, Taiyuan, Xi’an, Luoyang, Zhengzhou, Tianjin, Zhangjiakou, Tangshan… and that’s in no particular order…
I did Wuhan last year with my wife — and we were there for the first time in 2011. In the past years, we’ve done all of Wuhan’s three rail hubs. On Weibo, one of my friends reported of an alarming number of visitors who got the names and places of Wuhan’s three rail hubs wrong — Wuhan, Wuchang and Hankou. By bus, these guys are over an hour apart from one another — so you won’t want to hit the wrong station — especially if time’s killing you!
The pic you’re seeing is the version CCTV re-edited for a mainly Chinese audience. You’re seeing the works below — I did this in Pages while I was waiting for my wife’s best friend to spawn. (It’s a she.) The baby took forever, so the map was born earlier. ▶