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China’s Bullet Train Surging Ahead in 2011 and Beyond

Monday, May 16th, 2011
bullet train

One of the most amazing things visitors to China can see and experience is its staggering high-speed rail system that is already in full operation, with a network that covers more than 8,000 kilometers.

Although not all of China’s most well-known cities are linked by this bullet-train network, plans have already been set in motion to expand this already enormous system to an even bigger reach this year.

The idea for building the high-speed rail system had been in planning from the 1990s. Initiated by China’s Ministry of Railway, the proposal to build this network was China’s answer to address the overcrowding in its existing railway network at that time. Although there were some concerns raised, particularly on the cost, viability and profitability of such high-speed rail ways, taking their cue from what other countries experienced, the State Council proceeded with pursuing this project, and it was included in the 9th Five-Year Plan from 1996 to 2000.

What is also so amazing about China’s high-speed rail system is that while countries at present continue to debate internally on the merits of building such high-speed networks, China had already made the go-ahead decision years ago, and has now turned the concept into reality. It was a simple engineering decision to build the network, in that the potential of boosting future economic growth and solving the country’s transportation woes was foreseen– a great decision that will catapult the nation to even greater economic heights in 2011 and beyond.

Train Travel in China: A Beginner’s Perspective

China’s high-speed rail network is undoubtedly the longest in the world, stretching across a network spanning 8,358 kilometers, or 5,193 miles, as of January of 2011. Aside from that, this is the first and only commercial train network that utilizes conventional rail lines while reaching speeds of up to 350 km per hour, or roughly 217 miles per hour.

China’s train network now links almost all the towns and cities in the country and is probably the busiest rail network in the world now with the volume of commuters traveling to and from various destinations across the land. From a beginner’s perspective, riding one of China’s high-speed trains is a totally new and exciting experience in itself – a safe and comfortable way to travel.

Once experienced, travelers will know and compare the difference between travelling in these trains and traveling cross-country via internal flights, which are not only physically uncomfortable but environmentally unfriendly as well. With China’s trains, travelers can have their pick of traveling in any of the four usual classes normally offered - namely: soft sleeper, hard sleeper, soft seat and hard seat.

For beginners, it would be important to familiarize oneself with the different categories of trains available for travelers, which are usually designated with letters. A better train category means the trains are faster and with better accommodations but with higher fare charges. These categories include the following which are listed from the least to the best category:

  • K-Trains – Trains with a “K” in the train number are those classified as “fast”
  • T-Trains – Trains with a “T” in the train number are those classified as “extra-fast”
  • Z-Trains – These trains have very modern air-conditioned coaches and are classified as “high-quality express sleeper trains”
  • C, D and G-Trains – These are the high-quality high-speed daytime and sleeper trains with ultramodern air-conditioned coaches capable of reaching speeds between 200–300 kilometers per hour

Unveiling the World’s Fastest Bullet Train

China recently unveiled the world’s fastest bullet train used in full operation, the Chinese-made CRH380 train manufactured by China’s CSR Sifang Co Ltd., which has an average speed of 220 miles per hour and can reach maximum speeds of up to 262 miles per hour. This high speed train can cover a distance of over 126 miles (such as Shanghai’s Honggiao suburb and the city of Hangzhou) in almost half the time it would take using normal train traveling modes. Beijing is approximately 824 miles away from Shanghai and it would take standard trains more than 10 hours of travel time. With this high-speed bullet train, travel time can be cut by half down to only 5 hours.

Not all people, however, are in favor of the introduction of high-speed trains that will replace older and much slower rail lines. Some passengers are reluctant to pay higher fares for such train travel, particular on shorter routes. Yet passengers will surely see a big difference in such systems, as they compare not only the speeds and reduced travel time, but also the cleanliness, facilities and attentive service offered in these high-speed rail networks.

Now, China has made announcements that it will continue expansion of its ultra high-speed rail network with a goal of reaching 13,000 kilometers, or roughly 10,000 miles, and interconnect all major towns and cities in China. On top of that, plans are also underway which will further improve China’s bullet trains and enable them to reach even higher speeds of over 500 kilometers per hour.

Major Economic Benefits from China’s Bullet Train Network

This year, China is set to maximize its bullet train network and be able to interconnect across the full expanse of the country. This will be supported by an unprecedented infrastructure development that will have major economic and beneficial implications that will catapult into further rapid progression. Such benefits include:

  • The reduction in time travel will cater to the needs of China’s highly mobile population that will eventually spur further developments of Tier 2 and 3 regions in China. Individuals can now seek jobs within a larger prospect base and be employed in these jobs without the necessity of physically moving closer to the new job location.
  • China’s educated talent can benefit much from the reduced travel-hours as they travel to and from work. Aside from that, instead of wasting precious time in unproductive driving, these people can spend productive hours on the train that are not only comfortable but are equipped with wireless internet access – features that are not available or are too expensive to have on flights.
  • Slow passenger trains that the bullet trains will replace can be re-allocated and used as additional capacity for freight networks, which are currently experiencing severe bottlenecks. Shipping costs can now be reduced considerably, attracting new opportunities for further economic and business growth.
  • Interconnecting people with Chinese markets can open up new opportunities as businesses in major cities can tap into the human resources of other regions, which can be as short as a 30-minute high-speed ride away. Workers can also be shifted easily to and from factories by using the additional freight capacities
  • Chinese long holidays that usually last for more than a week (to give ample time for workers to travel) can now be reconfigured and shortened due to reduced travel times. This will increase overall productivity and reduce significant costs
  • Chinese businesses with enormous amounts of goods and products can reach a much wider customer base to market their products, creating more business opportunities for these Chinese enterprises.
  • The high-speed rail system is a convenient alternative to air travel that can link China physically with its other Asian neighbors, further increasing the flow of tourism between China and these countries, as well as opening up new channels for commerce that both countries can benefit from
  • The development of high-speed bullet trains is a source of national pride and significance for the country and can be likened with the country’s own space program

What the Future Holds for China’s Bullet Train Network

As China continues to invest heavily in infrastructure developments that other world economies are unwilling or practically unable to make, the future prospects for China’s bullet train network can go beyond the physical borders of the nation. Plans are now underway for China to interconnect with other countries in Asia and even all the way to Europe and London through this high-speed rail network.

To do this, China is currently negotiating with at least 17 nations to get them involved in this very ambitious project that is targeting realization by 2020. China will shoulder the costs for the infrastructure that will provide these smaller economies to open up their doors to the global economic community via a high-tech and high-speed travel network. In return, the nations will allow China to trade for the natural resources that it will need such as minerals, gas, oil, timber and other resources.

Three lines are initially planned. The first one will connect London’s King’s Cross Station directly to Beijing and would take travelers only 2 days of comfortable travel via high-speed train to traverse from station to station. The second line will be directed towards the ASEAN nations, connecting China to countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines. The third line proposed will provide a direct link from China crossing Siberia and all the way to Germany and Russia. The project is ambitious but feasible and will create favorable economic implications for the nations involved – in an ultra high-speed way.

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