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China updates

by DoDo Tue Jul 9th, 2013 at 10:12:41 AM EST

This week, two more passenger-dedicated lines entered service in China, while the Beijing–Shanghai high-speed line celebrated its second anniversary with a 40% traffic boost. Such growth and the resulting achievement of profitability on a number of high-speed lines first resulted in a recovery of rail infrastructure spending (which was throttled by the reviews in the wake of corruption scandals [bringing a suspended death sentence for the former minister, see comments] and the 2011 Wenzhou disaster), and now there are some interesting new projects. I also used the occasion to update my map of the high(er)-speed network.

Photo of test train on a run from Nanjing to Ningbo from Yuyao municipal government

One of the two new lines (in purple on the map below) is the Nanjing–Hangzhou Intercity Railway, which completes a triangle in the Yangtze River Delta area, bypassing Shanghai. The other is the Hangzhou–Ningbo PDL, which connects to the line along the south-eastern coast on which the Wenzhou disaster occurred. The latter, a semi-high-speed line (250 km/h max pre-Wenzhou, 200 km/h now), will be completed to Shenzhen (just outside Hong Kong) in September.

Map of China's elevated-speed network, as of 1 July 2013 (click to enlarge in-page). Legend:

  • Line thickness = top speed (with pre-Wenzhou/design speed in parantheses):
    • thick: 300(350) km/h
    • medium: 200(250) km/h
    • thin: 160(200) km/h
  • Color = construction status:
    • green: upgraded conventional line in service
    • blue: new line in service
    • purple: opened now
    • red: under construction
    • grey: planned

The Beijing–Shanghai PDL, which is China's premier line and the world's second-busiest high-speed line, was opened on 30 June 2011, in the middle of the crisis year, but showed rapid ridership growth in 2012 already (see RNB20). In its second year of operation, 74.402 million trips were made on the line, an almost 40% increase over the 53.343 million in the first year, and approaching the initial target of 80 million. That's an average 203,841 a day, while the single-day peak was 331,000 on May Day 2013. Recent reports quoted 210,000 a day for this line, 100,000 a day for Shanghai–Hangzhou, 70,000 a day for the south-eastern coastal line, and 13,000 on the half-year-old Bengbu–Hefei branch (for comparison, Madrid–Barcelona is 15,000–20,000 a day). With such numbers it's no wonder that spending on construction is back to old levels and some domestic critics have toned down.

With further connecting lines to open, and the improvement of access in urban areas due to the parallel metro boom, further solid growth on the Beijing–Shanghai line is pre-programmed. In other words, this line is bound to be a cash cow, and if the managers have any sense, they will use it to service the debt of less successful lines, or to lower fares, or both.

Another busy relation is between Jinan (south of Beijing) and the port city of Qingdao. Here, China first upgraded the conventional line with extensive re-alignments (finished in 2005). Immediately afterwards, a semi-high-speed line was built alongside the old line (opened 2008). Now this second line is hitting its limits, so plans for a third line, this time a proper high-speed one, have been moved forward. However, the planned route is not a straight one paralleling the existing lines, but a half-circle deviating far to the south to serve two smaller cities as yet without fast rail connections.

All of the profitable PDLs and "Intercity" lines are in the economically most-developed east coast region, while those still not busy enough for debt service last year are further inland. But, if you compare my current map with the November 2012 version, you see some post-Wenzhou projects there, too. Most importantly, the city of Zhengzhou (south of Beijing) strives to be China's biggest passenger rail hub, with a double-cross of PDLs to connect into the recently completed Zhengzhou East Railway Station, touted as Asia's largest.

What about the post-Wenzhou reviews? Economic considerations may explain the reduction of the design speed of some projects in the west (for example Xi'an–Baoji–Lanzhou), but others in the east were up-rated. Instead of economics, the biggest obstacle seems to be environmental impact assessment: for many lines, this wasn't done properly or at all before 2011, but authorities then got tough (also spurred on by angry locals). Comparing my current and November 2012 maps, you'll even notice lines for which I changed status from in-construction to planned: I found these were stopped by court order right after the start-of-construction ceremonies. Some of these (above all Beijing–Shenyang and Chengdu–Lanzhou) are still not approved, nor are likely to be. However, by and large, I found that by now the majority of pre-2011 projects passed the reviews (including those still planned).

On the approach to Yiwu station, the re-aligned Shanghai–Kunming Railway (upgrade finished in 2006) is crossed by the in-construction Hangzhou–Changsha PDL (photo from Hunan Government website). After the 2011 corruption scandal, construction of this line came to a virtual standstill as contractors went unpaid, but now you can already see most of it on Google Maps

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World Speed Survey 2013: China sprints out in front - Railway Gazette

NTERNATIONAL: China continues to set the pace in the global rail speed stakes, with its fastest trains achieving average point-to-point speeds more than 40 km/h faster than any other country, according to Railway Gazette's latest World Speed Survey.

...First place goes to Chinese Railways, which operates 22 trains daily over the 248 km between Shaoguan and Leiyang Xi in 47 min at an average of 316 km/h. Europe's fastest trains remain SNCF's TGV services on LGV Est linking Paris with Strasbourg and other towns in eastern France; TGV 5425 sprints the 167·6 km between Lorraine TGV and Champagne Ardenne TGV in 37 min at 271·8 km/h. Meanwhile, Spain overtakes Japan to take third place.

Well that's not quite correct. Average speed must obviously be below the top speed of 300 km/h. The mistake here must be the distances. The kilometerage of new lines is adjusted to that of parallel old lines at connecting points (meaning there are jumps in the numbering), and even fares are set according to these virtual 'old' distances. Still, having looked at timings and distances myself, I found several non-stop runs which are faster than the fastest TGV link, even if barely (by virtue of being longer runs). The three fastest:

  • Beijing South–Nanjing South: 280.3 km/h (1,023 km in 3 h 39 min)
  • Jinan West–Nanjing South: 280.5 km/h (617 km in 2 h 12 min)
  • Shijiazhuang–Zhengzhou East: 283.7 km/h (383 km in 1 h 21 min)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jul 7th, 2013 at 06:08:19 PM EST
Here are two interesting titbits from the CNN article also linked in the diary. First, in China, the rule-of-the-thumb three-hour travel time to beat planes doesn't apply. But what's the limit then?

Although Chen still prefers to fly on longer routes, she says on business trips shorter than six hours, the choice of train over plane is now a no-brainer.

Second, a point made by that toned-down critic:

"In less than a decade, we constructed more high-speed rail lines than what it took Japan and Europe 40 years to build," said Zhao Jian, an economics professor at Beijing Jiaotong University and one of the country's leading experts on rail transportation.

"We've had such amazing growth because land expropriation is cheap and so is labor," he explained. "You also have the economy of scale -- other countries usually build a few hundred kilometers of tracks, but in China we're talking about thousands of kilometers."

In Europe, economy of scale in rail construction is something that has been realised in Spain only, but austerity is set to eliminate that.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jul 8th, 2013 at 04:03:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Note that this is in the context of flights being regularly delayed. Presumably the 3 hour figure applies to real, not scheduled, travel time, so would not apply if flights are usually on time (or if trains are regularly 2 hours late, as has been my experience 3 out of 4 times last month in Germany).
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Mon Jul 8th, 2013 at 04:31:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Was that possibly due to work being done on the tracks after all the flooding?

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher
by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Sat Jul 20th, 2013 at 01:09:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On the Munich-Saarbrücken line? Ironically the only one that was on time (more or less) was Dessau-Dresden, the closest I got to the flooding.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Sat Jul 20th, 2013 at 02:25:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The father of Chinese high-speed rail will not be executed, but will serve at least 10 years :

Liu was a driving force behind the modernisation of China's rail system, a project that included building 10,000 miles of high-speed rail track by 2020 - with a budget of £170bn, one of the most expensive engineering feats in recent history.

Analysts say Liu's ruthless efficiency earned him the protection of higher party officials, allowing his corruption to go unchecked. He was placed under investigation in February 2011.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Mon Jul 8th, 2013 at 12:21:59 PM EST
In the best traditions of Kremlinology, I still wonder whether his corruption was the cause of, or the excuse for, his fall from grace. But the fact that he won't be executed (two-year reprieve? Oh come on!) may signal that he is neither a threat nor of use for anyone any more.

Of course, his biggest crime wasn't corruption, perhaps not even land expropriation issues, but an outgrowth of his style of ruthless efficiency: riding roughshod over the issues of safety and reliability to get the most out of technology, which ended in 40 deaths (in the Wenzhou disaster).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jul 8th, 2013 at 02:47:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
210,000 passengers a day !!! How do they fit all the trains in ?

London Lille is running a pretty packed service and that's only 27,000

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jul 9th, 2013 at 10:57:00 AM EST
One factor must be train capacity: 16-car, 1,050+-seat trains, vs. 377 for a Thalys or 750 for a Eurostar. As for frequency, back in November, I looked at the schedule. There were 83 trains per direction a day on the busiest section (Nanjing–Shanghai). So they can still increase frequency significantly. (Design capacity was 120 million a year = 330,000 a day, but I think that can be exceeded they way they operate it now.) The world's first, the Tohoku Shinkansen, peaked at almost 400,000 a day, with lower-capacity trains.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 9th, 2013 at 11:36:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I mean Tokaido Shinkansen... and the peak was 151 million passengers in the 2007-8 financial year, that's even higher than I remembered: 412,500 a day. Train frequency is 323 trains a day (both directions).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 9th, 2013 at 02:16:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not realated to China, but:

Here in the UK Channel 5 will be showing (Friday, 8 pm) a documentary called World's Busiest Train Station, about Shinjuku station in Tokyo. According to the blurb, every day Shinjuku sees three million passengers, making it fifteen times busier than London Waterloo.

Next week will be World's Busiest Airport, about Hong Kong International.

by Gag Halfrunt on Wed Jul 10th, 2013 at 05:39:17 AM EST
Ooooh goodie !!!

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Jul 11th, 2013 at 04:28:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Because of the train crash in France, the programme was replaced at the last minute with a repeat of Ice Road Truckers. According to  comments on Channel 5's website, it was available to watch online, but I just get an error message - after the commercials have played, of course.
by Gag Halfrunt on Fri Jul 12th, 2013 at 05:13:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The three million number seems to be a sum of the six parts of the station (without subtracting transfers), but the 1.5 million boarding or alighting at the JR East part only is already mind-boggling...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jul 11th, 2013 at 05:18:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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