China Adds New HSR Line – 308 Km long at 300 Km/hr

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China’s latest-generation of HSR (High Speed Rail) trains.

High speed rail (HSR) lines first zoomed onto the scene in Japan in 1964. It took a while for other countries to join the HSR club, but there now are no fewer than 18 countries offering passenger service at speeds in excess of 160 kilometers per hour (km/h) (99 mph), and some, including the latest addition to China’s range of offerings, have the potential for speeds as high as 300 km/h (186 mph).

China, with 16,308 km (10,133 miles) of HSR service, presently accounts for 60% of the world’s total super-fast train offerings. The latest – the 308 km (191 miles) cited in its total – was added last week. The new line began service on Saturday, Dec. 26. It connects Chengdu (home of pandas and capital of Sichaun Province) and Chongqing, both in southwest China, the Xinhau News agency has reported.

The news service said in September, when announcing the start of testing on the new line, that it will initially cut the travel time between the two cities from two hours to one-and-a-half hours. (The implication was that the potential full speed won’t be employed just yet, so the travel time between the cities could eventually be trimmed even more. Further evidence of that is the fact that the travel time cut is, at the start, only ½ hour, on a line where speeds of 300 km/h are possible over most if not all of a distance of 312.6 km [194 miles]. The air km/miles distance, at 268.6 km / 166.9 miles, is considerably less, indicating the rail route is hardly a straight line.)

An article on the blog-web site chengduliving.com, says the Chengdu-Chongqing trip took as long as 12 hours as recently as 2005 – before the initial (2-hour) bullet train was introduced. The article’s author, identified only as Charlie, after noting “the entirety of the trip is as fast and smooth as you’d expect a bullet train to be,” adds that, “seats are large and comfortable and in each there’s a readout which displays current speed and indoor/outdoor temperature.”

The Chengdu-Chongqing line “is part of a major east-west high-speed rail corridor project included in China’s national high-speed railway development plan,” the September report noted.

Given that China’s population is substantially larger than that of other countries with bullet train, or HSR, services, it may be no exaggeration that when attempting to buy bullet train tickets at Chengdu’s North Train Station, where these trains depart and arrtive, on busy weekends “you can see a queue of hundreds or even thousands playing games on their cell phones (or just yelling into them),” as Charlie put it.

Fortunately, China – Chengdu, at any rate – offers a convenient alternative, in the form of “dozens” of train ticket offices scattered around the city. Each offers “a computer readout of all the tickets available, making [your] choice easy,” Charlie said.

Other countries offering HSR/bullet train service include Austria, Belgium France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Turkey, the U.K., the U.S. and Uzbekistan, according to Wikipedia. (The latter’s Tashkent-Samarkand HSR line is 344 km [214] miles long, connecting the two largest Uzbek cities, the Wiki web site says.)

A separate Wikipedia entry notes that China has a total of 16,755 km (10,424 mi) of HSR lines planned or under construction. The same article declares that the world’s longest HSR line is the 2,298 km (1,428 mi) link for the Chinese cities of  Beijing and Guangzhou. A 36 km (22) mi) cross-border extension, will take the line into Hong Kong’s new West Kowloon Terminus (now under construction) by way of a dedicated tunnel connecting Hong Kong with mainland China. That extension is scheduled to open in 2017.

(Personal note: I’ve enjoyed one amazing HSR trip, from London’s Victoria Station to Paris’s Gare du Nord. [London departures now are from a sparkling new St. Pancras station (pictured below),

st_pancras_stationbuild to mimic Victorian-era station styles – which were large and very high-ceilinged because smoke from the coming-and-going coal-fueled engines would have been, in a lower-ceilinged structure, suffocating.]

(Now part of the Eurostar-branded system, which connects London with a spectrum of destinations on the European continent, the HSR train I rode through the then-new ‘chunnel’ – tunnel beneath the English Channel – was completed in 1994, at a cost of more than $21 billion.

(Having crossed from England to France [and vice versa] via relatively fast and somewhat slower air routes and a significantly slower rail-to-ship-to-rail that consumes half a day or more – even the by-air trips were long, because of journey times to and from airports at both ends – being able to travel from central London to the center of Paris in 2.5 hours was nothing short of a miracle. It would have been more so if, when we arrived in Paris, street sweeper types hadn’t been on strike, resulting in a Gare du Nord littered almost ankle-deep, it seemed, with trash that ordinarily would be regularly swept up in any of Paris’s six major train stations.)

HSR lines are incredibly costly, because curves must be ‘softened’, and continuously-welded rail is a must. And the trains that run on those lines need to be engineered (no pun intended) for air-pressure sensitivity (because of the high speed), a way-better-than-‘traditional’ concern  than designers of earlier trains seldom considered.

But their economic worth is huge: Halving the time of a trip is immensely important to businesses and for tourism, which tends to rise sharply as ‘getting there’ gets faster. Resulting efficiencies, and resulting higher profits, in the long run, pay off for government sponsors of HSR in the form of increased tax revenue.

And at the end of the day – public service be damned – that, the revenue factor, is the driving force in many municipal, state and national actions in support of infrastructure. (The latter is Rachel Maddow’s favorite word – with good reason: When it’s supported, good things happen. When it isn’t, a raft of problems are right around the corner.)

Finally the ‘Republican Rebels’ Allowed Something Good To Happen In Congress

US-CapitolWith next to no time to spare, Congress this week advanced legislation intended to give the rail transport industry three, and maybe as many as five, much-needed years to complete work on a program intended to make trains safer and reduce accidents. Without this extension, there was a serious risk that most U.S. railroads would have come to a grinding halt  year’s end – by or before midnight on December 31, to be precise.

A New York Times Op-Ed piece on Wednesday, jointly submitted by the chairman and chief executive of Dow Chemical Company and the executive chairman of BNSF Railway, described the problem in some detail. The crux of the problem, which could have halted delivery of “most of our food” to wholesalers’ and retailers’ warehouses, “the chlorine that makes the drinking water of 98% of all Americans safe to drink,” and – among other things – a very significant share of all manufactured goods, is that back in 2008 Congress set a too-tight deadline for most railroads to install “positive train control” (P.T.C.) equipment. The Times article noted that as well as insufficient-time complaints by railroads, even the Government Accountability Office acknowledged recently that progress on installation of the new safety equipment has lagged so far behind that, without the Congressional extension, the economy could have taken a $30 billion hit in January alone.

Indirectly, we owe passage of this extension – and of a comprehensive budget bill that avoids assorted other serious impacts on the running of the country and on the economy – to the Republican rebels who have voted against virtually every common-sense legislative proposal that’s come before them over the past couple of years.

Had they not been so successful at disrupting the nation’s governing affairs, now-former House Speaker John Boehner wouldn’t have been forced by them to resign. Had he remained  speaker, he wouldn’t have felt as compelled to ‘clean out the barn’, as he put it, of legislative leftovers before his departure, which took place Thursday. (He was replaced by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, he only agreed to stand for the position if he received the backing of the several warring factors within the Republican party.)

Questions remain, though, if even three years will be enough time – given both the cost and the effort required – to get all needed P.T.C. equipment in place.

Essentially, what done by that equipment, said by the Times piece to represent “the most significant technological innovation in railroading since the diesel engine replaced the steam engine,” is to integrate and process “extremely precise data from tracks” and the engine in a way that “allows advanced hardware to [quickly and safely] stop a 100-car freight train that is [more than] one mile long, weighs 6,000 tons and travels at 55 miles an hour – in any given location and weather.”

Already, an Association of American Railroads spokesman told The Washington Post, the rail industry has spent “nearly $6 billion” to getting the P.T.C. equipment in place. And though “much progress” has been made, according that spokesman, there’s still a lot that needs to be done.