Whew! Can 500 km/h trains be used?

By Xin Dingding and Tan Zongyang (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-10-20 10:06
Large Medium Small

BEIJING - China aims to lead the world in high-speed railway construction, according to the Ministry of Railways, and has plans to develop a "super-speed" train with a speed of up to 500 km per hour.

He Huawu, the ministry's chief engineer, told a railway technology forum on Monday in the Hubei provincial capital of Wuhan, that the super-speed technology is expected to allow trains to run at a speed of between 400 and 500 km per hour.

Xinhua News Agency quoted He as saying that the technology is already in the final phase of development.

The country already has 7,055 km of high-speed railways in service, giving it the world's longest and fastest high-speed service. It also has the most comprehensive technology and wants to extend that network to 13,000 km by 2012, according to the ministry.

Just two weeks ago, on Sept 28, one of the country's trains set a new speed record on an operating rail line - the Shanghai-Hangzhou line - hitting a speed of 416.6 km per hour .

The ministry's chief engineer did not say exactly when that 500-km/h train would roll out of the yards or which rail line it would be put on, and in fact some experts are speculating that the research is unlikely to be carried out for commercial purposes.

Wang Mengshu, a Chinese Academy of Engineering member and tunnel expert, said on Tuesday that the research is more likely to be simply for technological purposes because putting 500-km/h trains into real use is not cost-effective.

For one thing, a 500-km/h train places much greater demand on the tracks and tunnels and would involve immense construction costs.

"But research on a 500-km/h train could help to demonstrate China's advantage in high-speed railways, showing, for example, that the wheel/rail technology is good enough so there's no need for maglev lines," he elaborated.

Previously, in April 2007, France's TGV (train a grande vitesse), or "high-speed train", in trials intended to extend the limits of high speed technology, did a test run and set a record of 574.8 km/h, on a special test line, not a regular line.

Related readings:
Whew! Can 500 km/h trains be used? China's high-speed train sets new speed record
Whew! Can 500 km/h trains be used? Domestic high-speed train tech now a global pacesetter
Whew! Can 500 km/h trains be used? Glitch delays high-speed train
Whew! Can 500 km/h trains be used? Alstom looks to high-speed train maintenance contracts

Yang Hao, a Beijing Jiaotong University professor, has already warned that China shouldn't rush to put 500-km/h trains to commercial use because there are unimaginable problems that will keep cropping up with the speed.

"Just doing a couple of experiments is far from enough to prove the viability of the technology for commercial use," he cautioned.

Not to be elbowed aside, Chinese netizens have expressed support for the new technology research on, a major news portal.

That's not to say that there aren't those voicing concerns about safety. Cai Tianyi, who often commutes between Beijing and Tianjin on high-speed trains, said China only has a few years of experience in high-speed train manufacturing: "Why do we have to take the lead in this industry in such a hurried way, where we might be sacrificing safety?"

But He, the engineer, faced up to those doubts about safety at a Jiaotong University forum on transportation, on Saturday, asserting that "China's high-speed railways can stand up to rigorous safety testing."