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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