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. ▶
Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak not once, but twice at the Chinese High Speed Railway Travel Cooperation Conference, which was held at the Beijing Railways Tower, not far from the Beijing West Railway Station.
In the first event, I was part of a panel on the topic of high-speed rail in Taiwan. I actually visited the island and took five trips on that HSR system. I commented on how the system in Taiwan connects with the city metro systems in each major urban area, such as Taipei and Kaohsiung, even if the stations were somewhat further away from the heart of the cities.
For the second event, I had my own ten minutes onstage, where I introduced audiences to how railways were run in China, compared them to the situations in Europe (especially Switzerland), and floated ideas for how to make Chinese railways more international. I also had my wishes for Chinese HSR. ▶
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. ▶
The fact that I arrived back in Beijing in late August 2000 to a China where the fastest trains were just 160 km/h (for Guangzhou, up to 200 km/h) and nationwide ticketing was not available, to the fact that the fastest Chinese trains run, as of this post, at speeds just over 350 km/h, is just purely amazing. I travelled on a 350 km/h G train sitting the wrong way, and didn’t barf: it’s a sign at just how stable the Chinese HSR network is.
But the whole network is just about a few years old. It’s still in a bit of a public beta, and it can crash — as the Wenzhou crash showed us — and when that happened it was pretty tragic. Nearly 50 lives lost, and brutal manhandling by the railway authorities, who preferred to bury people alive than to save any lives. It’s a system so paralysed by bad press, and so demented at the wrong time, that despatch ordered drivers to “go invisible” and cared less about faster trains rear-ending “invisible” trains. ▶
Right now I’m in Tianjin, and the train that leaves at 15:10 will whisk me back to the Jing. That’ll bring my train mileage up to 13,168.33 km, but most importantly, that would have been the 100th time I would have travelled by train this year alone.
Must be amazing. I have to say: it’s not like this hasn’t happened before… that was ten years ago in Switzerland. But for this year alone, these are some amazing figures.
More to come once I’m back in Beijing. ▶