By Teshu Singh
The Beijing Shanghai high speed railway (Jinghu high speed railway) which was on track on 1st July connects People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) political capital with its financial centre. It is the longest and also the most expensive high-speed rail connection in the world. This line is seen as a major source of national pride, the chief engineer of the Ministry of Railways said “This is the pride of China and the Chinese people” hence it is no surprise that the launching of the train coincides with the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party. As the rail connects two main cities of PRC, it begs the question whether there is any strategic significance of this railway network?
It is interesting to note that the letter prefixed on the train numbers indicate the type of train in PRC. From fastest to slowest and the C-series stands for intercity high-speed rail which has the top speed of 380km/h (237 mph). The train uses the new CRH380 train sets and can accelerate up to a speed of 380 km/h. It will cover the journey in four hour forty–eight minutes which will be half the time of conventional rail. This will give fierce competition to the air lines because presently, the air travel between the two cities takes two and a half hours excluding the check in timings and other hassles.
PRC has been initiating the construction of its bullet train railway network since the early 1990. Today it has the world’s longest HSR network with approximately 8,358 km of routes in service as of January 2011, including 2,197 km of rail lines with top speeds of 350km/h.The new Beijing –Shanghai line is a part of a nation-wide expansion of the railroad system, which is due to cover 120,000 kilometers of track by 2020 and also a part of nationwide high speed network with speed up to 190mph (330kph). It took just 38 months for the Chinese to build 1,318 km rail line with 215 billion Yuan investment. The train has 90 services a day and will be carrying 160 million passengers a year. It will cross seven provinces that include some of China’s most densely populated and economically developed areas. Further this year, the Chinese government has plans for spending 700 billion Yuan on railway building alone.
To ensure every passenger has the best journey of their life bullet train authorities have held a national draft and constructed strange training courses by way of selecting the best ladies to serve on the high–speed rail. The ministry of railway has made wide-ranging arrangements for safety and security. They have planned for daily inspections of tracks and other facilities and an earthquake monitoring system.
PRC considers this as a tremendous achievement of China’s technological power and accelerated development but the Shanghai Maglev Train – the first commercial high speed maglev line in the world which runs from Longyang road station in Pudong to Pudong International Airport and just takes 7 minutes and 20 seconds to complete the distance of 30 km is a much better illustration of China’s technological prowess.
The government has announced several changes to the Beijing-Shanghai train in recent months. The top speed has been reduced to 300km/h from the previously-promised 380km/h due to concerns over both safety and cost. Authorities have also dropped the plan for a series of luxury ‘VIP’ carriages with airline-style fully reclining seats in order to keep overall ticket prices low. Instead they have settled on a simpler set of two-class carriages.
This high cost railway has provoked complains that it is too expensive for a country where millions of people still live in poverty. Rather, the government should be expanding the low-cost traditional rail.
There is also an argument about the technology used for the train. China’s initial Bullet Trains were built under technology transfer agreements with foreign train-makers including Siemens, Bombardier and Kawasaki heavy industries. There is an account that although the train is built with imported technology its manufacturers are trying to sell to Latin America and the Middle East. This has forced complaints that Beijing is violating the spirit of licenses with foreign providers by reselling technology that was meant to be used only in China.
Currently, in China freight is moved using large trucks and roadways to circulate goods and products throughout the country, exacerbating traffic congestion on major highways and contributing to the traffic jam. As the CRH network comes online, many existing lines will become freight only lines so that goods are transported more through railways than road. Perhaps, this train will give more space to freight on older lines which will certainly have long term benefits. The slashing of traveling time between two cities will definitely stimulate trade and enhance the flow of people and ideas. It will spread economic development farther west and industries like construction, commodities and tourism will further get a boost.
Research officer, IPCS
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