Intelligent Energy

China's high-speed rail record comes with a hitch

China's high-speed rail record comes with a hitch

Posting in Cities

The world's longest high-speed rail line opens for business, between Beijing and Shanghai. But not without a few technical problems.

In case you missed it: The world’s longest high speed rail link started commercial service earlier this month, and guess where?

Yes, once again China has proven its industrial prowess as its Beijing-to-Shanghai route opened for business on June 30, over a year ahead of schedule and about 3 years after work began.

As The Washington Post reports, the 823-mile line is the world’s longest stretch of high-speed rail, and is more than triple the distance of New York-to-Washington, a route that itself might one day have a high speed link.

“The line runs 90 pairs of trains daily, traveling at either 187 miles/h or 156 miles/h,” the story states. That’s good enough to cut the travel distance between the two Chinese cities in half in the fastest instance to 4 hours and 48 minutes, it says.

China’s 12th 5-year plan, running from 2011 to 2016 calls for 18,750 miles of new lines – not all of it high-speed - at a staggering cost of $432 billion. News agency AFP said the Beijing to Shanghai track cost $33 billion.

Nobody said high-speed rail is cheap, but it could be worth it in terms of alleviating CO2 emissions from passengers who might otherwise travel by car or plane. Of course, the CO2 equation also depends on where the power that drives the train comes from, so don’t forget that China generates 80% of its electricity from coal-fired plants, which are true carbon culprits.

The project has had its share of glitches. China was originally planning to operate a train that would have travelled about 25% faster, but safety concerns caused it slow down the velocity – an episode that cost Minister of Railway Liu Zhijun his job, noted Forbes.

And the shine came off last week, when technical problems forced 3 trains to a halt, Forbes reported. China blamed one of the breakdowns on a thunderstorm that knocked out power, and another on a separate power failure. Sounds like those coal fired plants and the grid are overworked.  China blamed the third stoppage on "a problem with tractive transformers on the train."

All in all though, something for the rest of the world to learn from, good and bad.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure