Goodbye Green Train

09/10/2018

By now, China has the longest high-speed rail network, representing almost the 65% of the total global mileage. In one decade PRC decided to ‘go out’ to promote itself, starting a process of transitioning from goods ‘made in China’ to goods ‘created in China’ as a technology innovator and promoter, and HSR was the forefront

 

 

The direct high-speed railway connection between Beijing and Hong Kong got in operation last month. Nowadays, Chinese business man or foreign tourists are enjoying the new high speed connection from Shanghai to Beijing and vice versa.  This new train increased speed cutting down travel time from 5-6 hours to 4.5 hours covering more than 1300 km with stops at smog others Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, and Jinan, Shandong Province. What explains this great technological leap forward?

China’s rapid rise as a formidable competitor in the high-speed rail industry has stunned the world. Although the country is a latecomer to the industry that has developed extremely fast in the in the past decade.

Not so long ago the “Green Train” was the way to ride China’s rails. Everyone who approached the country, experienced it. Those “green snakes” were mini-cities composed by sleeper coaches with easily over a thousand people on them. They connected and bring home people during chinese Golden Weeks, 黄金周. Those vehicles have done the history, but now PRC is moving forward and it’s ready to park this iconic train.

 

The flight is still quicker way to reach our destination in China, but bullet trains, compared with risk of delays at chinese airports, are now much preferred and relaxed option to travel in China.

 

“Golden Week” is the name given to the two annual weeklong national holidays established by the Chinese government, as is the case every year, colossal numbers of people are on the move, travelling both in and outside China. There are two Golden Week holidays each year in China. The first occurs in January or February at Chinese New Year during the Spring Festival and the second occurs in early October around National Day.

Now PRC has the longest high-speed rail network in the world, with 25,000 kilometers of track. Today, just a decade after construction began, two-thirds of the world’s HSR tracks have been laid in China. How can China turn itself from where it knew very little about high-speed rail to lead the world in the field, all within about ten years?

As we know,  in 1964, Japan was the first country to build a high-speed rail (HSR) system, known as the Shinkansen or the bullet train. European countries like France, Germany and Italy followed shortly and develop their own HSR technology following japanese example. China did not introduce HSR until after the turn of the millennium, called 高铁, gaotie, in chinese.

 

 

We should wait 2004, when China’s State Council adopted the Mid- and Long-Term Plan for railway development and the country decided to venture into the development of HSR.

At the beginning, in order to speed up its HSR development, China bought trains and rail technologies from foreign companies like Japan’s Kawasaki and Hitachi, Germany’s Siemens, France’s Alstom and Canada’s Bombardier, but in 2007, China started to develop its own HSR technology.

 

On 1 August 2008, a week before the official opening of the Beijing Olympic Games, its first high-speed train started to run between Beijing and Tianjin. That point was a milestone for China, was the beginning of  “high-speed diplomacy”, 高铁外交.

 

In 2009 PRC decided to ‘go out’ to promote itself, thus beginning a process of transitioning from goods ‘made in China’ to goods ‘created in China’ as a technology innovator and promoter, and HSR was the forefront.

By now, China has the longest high-speed rail network, representing almost the 65% of the total global mileage. According to the International Union of Railways, at present some 1,600 million passengers per year travel by high-speed trains in the world, of which 800 million are in China, 355 million in Japan, 130 million in France, and 315 million in the rest of the world.

China aims to extend its HSR network to 30,000km by 2020 and to 38,000km by 2025. By then, the Dragon country will have a total rail mileage of 175,000km (conventional- speed as well as high-speed), connecting over 80% of its major cities nationwide. Domestically PRC plans to have rails running across the whole country.

 

Chinese leadership media has been “looking for new growth drivers”, and HSR can boost PRC’s economy. Following “Made in China 2025” plan, several sectors are beginning to replace, or have replaced, manufacturing and exports as the growth drivers. Among those sectors is the “high-speed railway economy” – all the business opportunities China can create by expanding its high-speed rail network.

 

However, it would be simplistic to say China’s high-speed railway programme is only an expediency designed to meet the orders of construction companies and create jobs for their workers. High-speed rail has helped to integrate regional economies such as Beijing-Tianjin- Hubei area, Shanghai-Zhejiang-Jiangsu cluster or Chengdu-Chongqing. In shorts words, HSR let China have what we call “commuting”.

The recent experience with high-speed rail and a closer look at the data reveals that high-speed rail has been, and is set to be, a vital part of China’s growth strategy. China’s high-speed railway has also gone global. In 2014, China completed the construction of its first overseas high-speed rail in Turkey. In June 2015, China and Russia inked deals for 770 km of track connecting Moscow and Kazan. In October 2015, China and Indonesia. The “high-speed diplomacy” is already reality and boasts BRI project.

And what about old-fashioned “green train”? They still operate across much of China despite the rapid high-speed growth. They represent a part of PRC’s history, but it’s time now to move forward. Those locomotives that run thousand of hundreds of kilometers across the country, are ready to rest and be the icon of Chinese transportation.

 

 

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