High-speed rail in China | History and definitions of the fastest trains from China

High-speed rail in China refers to any commercial train service in the People's Republic of China with an average speed of 200 km/h (120 mph) or higher. China has the world’s longest high-speed rail (HSR) network with about 8,358 km (5,193 mi) of routes in service as of January 2011 including 2,197 km (1,365 mi) of rail lines with top speeds of 350 km/h (220 mph). China high-speed rail network will be larger than all European high speed rail networks combined by the end of 2011, and it will be larger than the rest of the world combined by the end of 2014. The high-speed trains have transported 600 million passengers since their introduction on April 18, 2007, with average daily ridership of 237,000 in 2007, 349,000 in 2008, 492,000 in 2009, and 796,000 in 2010.

China's high speed rail lines consist of upgraded conventional rail lines, newly-built high-speed passenger designated lines (PDLs), and the world’s first high-speed commercial magnetic levitation (maglev) line. The country is undergoing an HSR building boom. With generous funding from the Chinese government's economic stimulus program, 17,000 km (11,000 mi) of high-speed lines are now under construction. The entire HSR network will reach 13,073 km (8,123 mi) by the end of 2011 and 25,000 km (16,000 mi) by the end of 2015.

China is the first and only country to have commercial train service on conventional rail lines that can reach 350 km/h (217 mph). Notable examples of HSR lines include:
  1. The Wuhan–Guangzhou High-Speed Railway, a passenger-dedicated trunk line opened in 2009, that reduced the 968 km (601 mi) journey between the largest cities in central and southern China to 3 hours. Trains reach top speeds of 350 km/h (220 mph) and average 310 km/h (190 mph) for the entire trip.
  2. The Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Railway, an intercity express line opened in 2008, that shortened the 117 km (73 mi) commute between the two largest cities in northern China to 30 minutes. Trains reach top speeds of 330 km/h (210 mph) and average 234 km/h (145 mph).
  3. The Shanghai Maglev Train, an airport rail link service opened in 2004, that travels 30 km (18 mi.) in 7 minutes, 20 seconds, averaging 240 km (150 mph) and reaching top speed of 431 km/h (268 mph).
China’s initial high speed trains were imported or built under technology transfer agreements with foreign train-makers including Siemens, Bombardier and Kawasaki Heavy Industries. However, Chinese engineers re-designed and further improved the internal components of the train in order for the train to run at much higher speed. China currently holds close to 1000 local and international patents for high speed rail technologies. Almost all of the chinese high-speed trains are now made in China and its latest and fastest train 380A model is fully designed and made in China.

The Beijing–Shanghai High-Speed Railway, set to open in June 2011, will use the new CRH380 trainsets, which can reach a top operational speed of 380 km/h (236 mph). However, after concerns over safety and opposition from passengers against the high ticket prices for the high-speed rail network, Chinese officials announced that some trains will be subject to a 300 km/h speed limit. Trains on the Beijing-Tianjin high-speed line and a few other inter-city lines will continue to run at a top speed of 350 km/h.

State planning for China's high speed railway began in the early 1990s. The Ministry of Railways (MOR) submitted a proposal to build a high speed railway between Beijing and Shanghai to the National People's Congress in December 1990. At the time, the existing Beijing-Shanghai railway was already reaching capacity, and the proposal was jointly studied by the Science & Technology Commission, State Planning Commission, State Economic & Trade Commission, and the MOR. In December 1994, the State Council commissioned a feasibility study for the line. Policy planners debated the necessity and economic viability of high-speed rail service. Supporters argued that high-speed rail would boost future economic growth. Opponents noted that high-speed rail in other countries were expensive and mostly unprofitable. Overcrowding on existing rail lines, they said, could be solved by expanding capacity through higher speed and frequency of service. In 1995, Premier Li Peng announced that preparatory work on the Beijing Shanghai HSR would begin in the 9th Five Year Plan (1996–2000), but construction was not scheduled until the first decade of the 21st century.

Despite setting speed records on test tracks, the DJJ2, DJF2 and other domestically-produced high speed trains were insufficiently reliable for commercial operation. The State Council turned to advanced technology abroad but made clear in directives that China's HSR expansion cannot only benefit foreign economies. China's expansion must also be used to develop its own high-speed train building capacity through technology transfers. The State Council, MOR and state-owned train builders, the China North Car (CNR) and China South Car (CSR) used China's large market and competition among foreign train-makers to induce technology transfers.

In 2003, the MOR was believed to favor Japan's Shinkansen technology, especially the 700 series, which was later exported to Taiwan. The Japanese government touted the 40-year track record of the Shinkansen and offered favorable financing. A Japanese report envisioned a winner-take all scenario in which the winning technology provider would supply China's trains for over 8,000 km of high-speed rail. However, Chinese netizens angry with Japan's World War II atrocities organized a web campaign to oppose the awarding of HSR contracts to Japanese companies. The protests gathered over a million signatures and politicized the issue. The MOR delayed the decision, broadened the bidding and adopted a diversified approach to adopting foreign high-speed train technology.

In June 2004, the MOR solicited bids to make 200 high speed train sets that can run 200 km/h. Alstom of France, Siemens of Germany, Bombardier Transportation based in Germany and a Japanese consortium led by Kawasaki all submitted bids. With the exception of Siemens which refused to lower its demand of RMB(¥) 350 million per train set and €390 million for the technology transfer, the other three were all awarded portions of the contract. All had to adapt their HSR train-sets to China's own common standard and assemble units through local joint ventures (JV) or cooperate with Chinese manufacturers. Bombardier, through its JV with CSR's Sifang Locomotive and Rolling Stock Co (CSR Sifang), Bombardier Sifang (Qingdao) Transportation Ltd (BST). won an order for 40 eight-car train sets based on Bombardier's Regina design. These trains, designated CRH1A, were delivered in 2006. Kawasaki won an order for 60 train sets based on its E2 Series Shinkansen for ¥9.3 billion. Of the 60 train sets, three were directly delivered from Nagoya, Japan, six were kits assembled at CSR Sifang Locomotive & Rolling Stock, and the remaining 51 were made in China using transferred technology with domestic and imported parts. They are known as CRH2A. Alstom also won an order for 60 train sets based on the New Pendolino developed by Alstom-Ferroviaria in Italy. The order had a similar delivery structure with three shipped directly from Savigliano along with six kits assembled by CNR's Changchun Railway Vehicles, and the rest locally made with transferred technology and some imported parts. Trains with Alstom technology carry the CRH5 designation.

The following year, Siemens reshuffled its bidding team, lowered prices, joined the bidding for 300 km/h trains and won a 60-train set order. It supplied the technology for the CRH3C, based on the ICE3 (class 403) design, to CNR's Tangshan Railway Vehicle Co. Ltd. The transferred technology includes assembly, body, bogie, traction current transforming , traction transformers, traction motors, traction control, brake systems, and train control networks.

China's high speed rail expansion is entirely managed, planned and financed by the government. After committing to conventional-track high speed rail in 2006, the state has embarked on an ambitious campaign to build passenger-dedicated high-speed rail lines, which accounts for a large part of the government's growing budget for rail construction. Total investment in new rail lines grew from $14 billion in 2004 to $22.7 and $26.2 billion in 2006 and 2007. In response to the global economic recession, the government accelerated the pace of HSR expansion to stimulate economic growth. Total investments in new rail lines including HSR reached $49.4 billion in 2008 and $88 billion in 2009. In all, the state plans to spend $300 billion to build a 25,000 km (16,000 mi.) HSR network by 2020.

China's high-speed rail construction projects are highly capital intensive. They are primarily funded by state owned banks and financial institutions, which lend money to the MOR and local governments. The MOR, through its financing arm, the China Rail Investment Corp, issued an estimated ¥1 trillion (US$150 billion in 2010 dollars) in debt to finance HSR construction from 2006 to 2010, including ¥310 billion in the first 10 months of 2010. CRIC has also raised some capital through equity offerings; in the spring of 2010, CRIC sold a 4.5 percent stake in the Beijing-Shanghai High Speed Railway to the Bank of China for ¥6.6 billion and a 4.537 percent stake to the public for ¥6 billion. CRIC retained 56.2 percent ownership on that line. As of 2010, the CRIC-bonds are considered to be relatively safe investments because they are backed by assets (the railways) and implicitly by the government.

China Railway High-speed runs different electric multiple unit (trainsets), the designs of which all are imported from other nations and given the designations CRH-1 through CRH-5. CRH trainsets are intended to provide fast and convenient travel between cities. Some of the trainsets are manufactured locally through technology transfer, a key requirement for China. The signalling, track and support structures, control software and station design are developed domestically with foreign elements as well, so the system as a whole could be called Chinese. China currently holds many new patents related to the internal components of these train sets since they have re-designed major components so the trains can run at a much higher speed than the original foreign train design.

CRH1A, B,E, CRH2A, B,E, and CRH5A are designed for a maximum operating speed (MOR) of 200 km/h and can reach up to 250 km/h. CRH3C and CRH2C designs have an MOR of 300 km/h, and can reach up to 350 km/h, with a top testing speed more than 380 km/h. However, in practical terms, issues such as cost of maintenance, comfort, cost and safety make the maximum design speed of more than 380 km/h impractical and remain limiting factors.

Chinese train-makers and rail builders have signed agreements to build HSRs in Turkey, Venezuela and Argentina and are bidding on HSR projects in the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil (São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro) and Myanmar, and other countries. They are competing directly with the established European and Japanese manufacturers, and sometimes partnering with them. In Saudi Arabia's Haramain High Speed Rail Project, Alstom partnered with China Railway Construction Corp. to win the contract to build phase I of the Mecca to Medina HSR line, and Siemens has joined CSR to bid on phase II. China is also competing with Japan, Germany, South Korea, Spain, France and Italy to bid for California's high-speed rail line project, which would connect San Francisco and Los Angeles. In November 2009, the MOR signed preliminary agreements with the state's high speed rail authority and General Electric (GE) under which China would license technology, provide financing and furnish up to 20 percent of the parts with the remaining sourced from American suppliers, and final assembly of the rolling stock in the United States.