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. ▶
Beginning today (16 January 2014) until the end of the Spring Festival Peak Travel Season, you’ll see me providing bilingual railway information throughout this peak travel period, especially on Weibo. The railways are pledging safe, convenient and pleasant services this year — and as a traveller to many different countries, I like this. This is a good move from China Railways — they’re treating their customers the right way.
A lot of people are on the move, so to make people travel the easiest, I’m promoting the bilingual posts. The entire railway system (national, joint-venture, local and private railways) as well as all of China’s transport systems, news organisations, and just about anyone is free to retweet the posts, and I allow this for the simple goal that people get home easier after getting info from them. I know rail and metro people are busy this time of the year. I hear you — it’s time I got into this to help you. Oh, and because I’m an English teacher, I take full responsibility for my translations.
I’m doing this on my own initiative — and in case you were wondering who I am, I’m a Lecturer (equivalent to Assistant Professor in the United States) at the Communication (Media) University of China (I’m also a “foreign expert” there). I’m also the author of Everyday Rail English, a column for making the rail system in China speak English. I’m doing this to help; I get no money out of this. And to many extents, because I’m helping everyone, I’d like to keep it that way. ▶
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. ▶
I’ve done 100,000+ km in China, and man do my bums hurt.
But unfortunately, they’re getting all the station names wrong. Some even are off-colour.
Poor Hangzhou needs a better name than one that implies — the more private parts of your body. Thankfully, beginning August 2013, I’m joining the official national railways web site, People’s Railway Daily Online, at peoplerail.com. Every day, I’ll be telling rail folks in and around the country how to write English right. ▶
(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. ▶
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. ▶