China in the fast lane: Bullet trains and maglev lines

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Inside the driver's cabin on a new Fuxing bullet train. Photo: Xinhua

Bullet trains running on the Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Railway, China’s first high-speed railway commissioned 10 years ago, increased their speed to 350 kilometers per hour on Wednesday from 280-300km/h.

That means the 120km run from the Chinese capital to the northern industrial powerhouse takes a little more than 20 minutes. Xinhua reported that the increase in speed could allow more trains to shuttle passengers to meet a growing market demand.

After Wednesday’s change in train speed, there will be 272 trips available per day, while the maximum daily passenger transport capacity has subsequently grown by 6,200 to 157,000, according to the China Railway Corp.

More then 82,000 passengers used the line on a daily basis in the first half of 2018.

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Passengers take photos of a speed display when their train hit the 350 km/h mark on the Beijing-Tianjin line. Photo: Xinhua
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Bullet trains parked at a marshalling station in Beijing. Photo: Xinhua
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A platform inside the 310,000-square-meter Beijing South Railway Station. Photo: Xinhua

After 10 years of operations, the line has recorded 250 million passenger trips in total, making China the world’s No.1 country for high-speed railways with a total of 25,000km of high-speed track, accounting for two-thirds of the world’s total, where trains run at no less than 200km/h.

The rolling stock of the express links will also be progressively replaced by the new Fuxing, which translates as “rejuvenation” and is known as a China Standardized EMU (electric multiple unit) train with more  streamlined locomotives.

The trains have undergone testing at more than 400 km/h, which is faster than the 380 km/h that can be reached by the CRH380, the newest type of Hexie (harmony) high-speed train.

The fleet of Fuxing trains will soon shuttle commuters at 350km/h on other key routes linking Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and other cities.

Fuxing trains on the 1,318km Beijing-Shanghai line will only take four and a half hours to reach their destination. Nearly 600 million people use this route each year, providing a reported US$1 billion in profit.

The windows of the carriages could become electronic screens so the whole train could look like a home theater, easing the fatigue of the journey.

The Shanghai maglev train has been running between the city center and Pudong Airport at speeds as high as 430km/h since 2002.

A maglev train leaves Shanghai's Pudong International Airport. The 30.5km line, opened in 2002, is the world's first commercial high-speed maglev. Photo: Alex Needham / Wikipedia Commons

A maglev train leaves Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport. The 30.5km line, opened in 2002, is the world’s first commercial high-speed maglev. Photo: Alex Needham / Wikipedia Commons

China is also developing a 400km/h Free Gauge Train, as well as the next-generation maglev train which runs at 600km/h, according to a Xinhua report earlier this year.

Research at a superconductivity laboratory at Southwest Jiaotong University in Chengdu in western China is also gaining momentum for a prototype maglev train that can travel at a whopping 1,000km/h in a vacuum tube, faster than narrow-body jets such as Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s, which normally cruise at 700-800km/h.

A 45-meter tube has been constructed inside the lab after years of painstaking research. Serious science is behind this toy-like train on which a carriage can be constantly levitated at an altitude of 20 millimeters, either in motion or static, with a payload of up to 1 ton, reportedly a new record in the global race to develop the next generation of “floating trains.”

Read more: Bullets and bombs on China’s high-speed rail network

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