Thursday, March 11, 2010

Super Fast Trains

Last December, China unveiled the world’s fastest train on the newly opened Wuhan-Guangzhou line. Running at top speed of 350km/h, the train completed the journey from Wuhan to Guangzhou – a distance of over 900km – in just 3 hours!

Wuhan-Guangzhou High Speed Rail

(Just a matter of reference, Malaysia’s North-South Expressway is merely 772km long.)

Oriental Daily News (东方日报), a Malaysian tabloid, published an article of 2 pages long detailing China’s high speed rail. Chinese media of the country is generally pro-China. As you might expect, Oriental Daily hailed China’s achievement, saying that the Middle Kingdom had already surpassed Japan.

It should be noted that China has worked together with foreign companies, most notably Kawasaki of Japan and Siemens of Germany, in building its high speed rail. The train which runs on Wuhan-Guangzhou line, for example, is based on Siemens’s model. However, China has got technology transfer from its foreign partners. Sifang, the Chinese train-maker, modifies Siemens’s train and manufactures it locally.

There are many factors which affect the speed of a high speed rail, such as the train itself, the track, wear-and-tear, and noise pollution. Generally, the straighter the track, the faster a train can run. I think this is where China has an edge over its competitors. While Japan, France and Germany can upgrade their trains, it is more difficult to upgrade the tracks which were laid decades ago.

Japan has been experimenting with the Fastech 360 train for the last few years. As its name implies, the train was designed for a top speed of 360km/h. While this speed was reached easily during testing, the train has failed in terms of noise control. As a result, the ‘operational model’ of the train will only run at a commercial speed of 320km/h. As far as I know, Europe’s noise control standard isn’t as stringent as Japan’s. China is probably more lax.

As a conclusion, I would say that China’s achievement in high speed rail is definitely astonishing. No doubt about that. However, this does not mean, technology-wise, the Middle Kingdom has left Japan and Europe in the dust.

P/S Beijing has proposed three international high speed rail lines linking China to Europe and South-East Asia. Presumably a passenger can travel from the Chinese capital to London or Singapore in 2 or 3 days. However, for journeys longer than 1000km, air travel is still more practical.

Alstom AGV: successor to TGV

Fastech 360: The ‘cat-ears’ are used to slow down the train during emergency braking.


  1. China is fast moving forward! :)

  2. yeah, from 11 hours on the road reduced to 3 hours in the train, who wouldn't say this is exciting??

  3. Goodness. I really hope we Malaysian can enjoy such luxury too. Our KTM is so damn lousy.

  4. i hope there is 1 in msia too! at least before i die.

  5. if there's a train journey from beijing to london (or nearer, say Moscow) in ~2 days, why not? air travel doesnt gv u the 'cross-territories' experience. and on the way, u'll get to see a lot of amazing landscapes!

  6. wow, i would love to try it some day!

  7. kyh
    If you want to see the landscapes, try a slower train.

  8. Wow....very fast the then one F1...hehe..but also feel dangerous...

  9. Sam
    Car is more dangerous.

  10. What a change! About ten years ago, I stayed a couple of months in Nanjing and used to go to Shanghai on WE. The train took forever...

    This is like the TGV in France. From Nantes (my hometown) to Paris, there are 400 km, and it takes only 1:45 by train.

  11. A most informative post, KS. Thank you.

    Awesome technology! Very exciting prospect of using the train for travelling instead of by plane. Malaysia needs a fast-train too along the entire stretch of the peninsula.

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