High Speed Rail in China Using Dedicated Lines

Technology Review has technical coverage of the buildup of high speed rail in China

China has begun operating what is, by several measures, the world’s fastest rail line: a dedicated 968-kilometer line linking Wuhan, in the heart of central China, to Guangzhou, on the southeastern coast. In trials, the “WuGuang” line trains (locally built variants of Japan’s Shinkansen and Germany’s InterCity Express high-speed trains) clocked peak speeds of up to 394 kilometers per hour (or 245 miles per hour). They have also recorded an average speed of 312 kph in nonstop runs four times daily since the WuGuang’s December 26 launch, slashing travel time from Wuhan to Guangzhou from 10.5 hours to less than three.

France’s TGV from Lorraine to Champagne and averages 272 kph. China did not repurpose older tracks. They designed from the ground up for very high-speed operation over hundreds of kilometers. Bridges and tunnels, as well as the concrete bed beneath the track, have been designed to safely rocket passengers around, through, or over the natural and man-made obstacles that would otherwise force the trains to slow down.

Over the next five years there’ll be more high-speed rail added in China than the rest of the world combined.

* 10,000 miles of dedicated high-speed rail lines connecting all of China’s major cities will be added by 2020.
* Dedicated lines will help meet rail demand, which is expected to more than triple to five billion passengers per year by 2020.
* Dedicated high-speed rail should also improve freight transportation by easing congestion on conventional rail lines.
* experts say part of the high cost will be paid back through lower operating costs. Rather than laying rail on wood or concrete sleepers set into crushed rock, the Chinese rails are almost exclusively set into beds of concrete slabs designed by German rail engineering firms RAIL.ONE and Max Bögl. This eliminates damage to the track and rolling stock caused by flying stones lifted by turbulence from the high-speed trains. It also reduces wear on the wheels from shifting tracks.

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* high-speed rail is three times more efficient than flying, and five times more efficient than driving per passenger mile.

The Washington Post, citing a GAO study, says construction costs vary from $22 million a mile to $132 million a mile for high speed rail. China is targeting the lower end of those costs ($30 million per mile) with top notch dedicated approach.