China’s Rail Tech Reaches Global Forefront | China Unlocked

By Zhang Hongrui

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The launch of Fuxing bullet train signifies that China is now a world leader in the field of railway technology and equipment, and that the related standards it has developed will be embraced by an increasing number of countries around the world.

China’s high-speed rail technology went viral online in 2015, when a Swiss tourist traveling on the Beijing-Shanghai High-speed Railway stood a coin upright on its side on the train windowsill. The train had reached its top speed of 300 kilometers per hour, yet the coin stood upright for eight minutes — a testament to the smooth and stable travel of China’s high-speed trains.

High-speed trains are now among China’s most recognized technological achievements, according to the fourth China’s National Image Global Survey. The technology has been dubbed one of the “four great inventions of modern China”.

In contrast with Hexie trains, Fuxing trains are independently designed and made in China, in terms of both software and hardware. Therefore, China controls the technology’s intellectual property rights. Of the 254 standards of the core technologies used in Fuxing trains, 84 percent are Chinese-developed, indicating that China has come to the forefront of rail technology and equipment worldwide. This also indicates that the Chinese standards are set to be embraced by railway authorities in an even greater number of countries.

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The first “Fuxing” train, G123, ready for departure from Beijing South Railway Station on June 26, 2017, bound for Shanghai.

Global Forerunner

To gain first-hand experience of this new technology, this reporter booked a trip on a Fuxing train. Compared to the CRH380 model, the Fuxing is smoother in overall physical appearance, which, according to the technician accompanying me, makes the train not only better looking, but also more efficient.

“The flat, smooth outline design can reduce air resistance, and therefore increase the train’s speed,” the technician explained. “It lowers air resistance by 7.5-12.3 percent in comparison with the CRH380 model, and cuts the energy consumption per 100 kilometers by 17 percent at speeds below 350 kilometers per hour.”

Upon boarding the train I noticed the seat numbers were marked on an electronic display overhead. The train will be connected with the 12306 ticket booking system in the future, in which a color indicator will inform passengers whether or not a seat has been booked. After taking my seat, I immediately noticed that the Fuxing offers more legroom than the Hexie. A crew member told me that legroom is 1.16 meters in the first-class cabin and 1.02 meters in second class.

I met a man surnamed Gao who was traveling to Shanghai for business. Because he needed to work on his laptop and phone during the journey, he said he loved the train’s design, especially in terms of placement of power sockets and accessibility to the internet.

 “It is convenient to have a power socket between the seats instead of on the floor, like they were before,” Gao said. “Now, there is full Wifi coverage of every car. What’s more, the train is faster. It’s wonderful.”

The two Fuxing models — CR400AF and CR400BF — both surpassed 400 kilometers per hour in speed tests, and can run continuously at 350 kilometers per hour. China’s tests were the first to study changes in the key technical parameters of high-speed trains at the speed of 400 kilometers per hour and above, offering valuable technical support to high-speed rail development in other countries.

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Sixth-month-old Huangpu Jiaye traveling with his family on the “Fuxing” G123 train.

Chinese Standards Going Global

 China began research on its own Multiple Unit (MU) train in 2012, and completed initial designs in 2014. The next year the first train rolled off the production line and entered the testing and evaluation stage. This June, it officially went into service.

According to Zhao Hongwei, a chief engineer and researcher at the China Academy of Railway Sciences, trains currently serving China’s high-speed lines will all eventually be replaced with the latest model. Replacing the 2,586 Hexie trains in service with Fuxing models will cost an estimated 400 billion yuan (US$60 billion). China plans to complete the construction of 11,000 kilometers of new railway lines by 2020, which would require an additional 1,320 Fuxing trains worth around 200 billion yuan (US$30 billion). Each investment of 100 million yuan (US$15 million) in high-speed railway technology and production adds 30 million yuan (US$4.4 million) in output to the metallurgy industry, 70 million yuan (US$10.4 million) to the railway infrastructure sector, 30 million yuan (US$4.4 million) to equipment manufacturing and 20 million yuan (US$2.9 million) to the machinery industry. In this light, the development of high-speed rail makes a significant contribution to increasing domestic demand and stimulating economic growth.

According to Wang Mengshu, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, Chinese high-speed trains have three technical advantages over those of Japan, France and Germany. First, the technologies used in rail and tunnel construction are more advanced, and better suited to accommodate various complex conditions. For instance, Chinese-made tracks cannot be distorted by large temperature differences. Secondly, China has a highly competitive team of technicians who stand ready to complete any type of project. Third, construction costs are lower than those in developed countries.

In a 2014 report, the BBC pointed out that the construction cost of Chinese high-speed railways was less than two thirds of many other countries, at US$1,700-2,100 per kilometer. By comparison, the figure was US$2,500-3,800 in Europe and US$5,600 in the United States.

Higher construction costs always translate to higher ticket prices. A one-way Shinkansen ticket from Osaka to Tokyo in Japan costs 900 yuan (US$133), while a ride covering the same distance in China costs less than 300 yuan (US$44). The ICE of Germany is also more expensive than its Chinese counterpart, and what’s more, its service is plagued by air-conditioning glitches when temperatures exceed 35 degrees Celsius. The French TGV is mired in technical transfer problems.

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By developing its MU train independently, China has stayed clear of intellectual property rights disputes, and can fully cater to market demand, said Ji Jialun, a professor with Beijing Jiaotong University. It has made remarkable progress in exporting its high-speed train technologies and products since 2015 by starting projects in Indonesia, Russia and Thailand under the Belt and Road Initiative.

Chinese-made MU trains are planned to run along the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway, the first Chinese high-speed rail project abroad. Earlier this year, a Chinese company beat its Japanese, South Korean, German and French rivals in bidding for the development rights to a high-speed line between Singapore and Malaysia. China’s key advantages over its competitors include full-package standards covering vehicle and equipment supply, engineering technology and maintenance.

From the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway to the Mombasa-Nairobi railway, as well as the China-Thailand railway and the Moscow-Kazan line, China’s high-speed railway now represents the highest standard of Chinese manufacturing. Chinese companies are eagerly exploring the international market while exporting technical standards to a greater number of countries and regions in the process.

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