China's high-speed trains attract frustrated fliers

Beijing (CNN) -- With less than half an hour to spare, Chen Zhu calmly emerged from the subway station connected to the massive Beijing West Railway Station with a small, wheeled bag.


Upon retrieving her ticket from a kiosk, Chen breezed through the security checkpoint before scanning her ticket to open an automated gate leading to the platform. Five minutes after boarding, she was reading a book as her bullet train pulled out of the station precisely on time.


For this young journalist who frequently travels for work, these steps have become part of an increasingly appealing routine amid worsening air traffic congestion at major airports across China.


"Flights out of Beijing are always delayed," Chen said. "Door to door, high-speed trains are often faster than flying for me.


"I usually get to the station last minute and board the train right before departure. The service is just so punctual."


China's fast-expanding high-speed rail network is now the world's busiest with daily ridership exceeding 1.3 million.


On morning of Chen's journey, train G511 raced through the countryside at 300 kmph (186 mph) from Beijing to the central city of Wuhan in just five hours -- less than half the time of the regular rail route.


The new link between Beijing and Wuhan opened last December and added to what has become the world's longest high-speed rail line, running almost 2,300 kilometers (1,429 miles) from the Chinese capital to the southern metropolis of Guangzhou.


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Although Chen still prefers to fly on longer routes, she says on business trips shorter than six hours, the choice of train over plane is now a no-brainer.


"I work or read on the train," she said, highlighting the benefit of uninterrupted mobile phone reception. "It's great that everyone has access to a power outlet."


At $85, her second-class seat costs less than half of a full-fare economy-class plane ticket on this major business route.


Now the world's second-largest economy, and flush with cash, China has been busy purchasing foreign rail technologies and building high-speed lines.


The Chinese government, which owns and operates all domestic rail companies, launched the country's first high-speed service in 2007 and now boasts 9,300 kilometers (5,778 miles) of high-speed routes nationwide, turning a nonexistent network into the world's longest in a few short years.


"In less than a decade, we constructed more high-speed rail lines than what it took Japan and Europe 40 years to build," said Zhao Jian, an economics professor at Beijing Jiaotong University and one of the country's leading experts on rail transportation.


"We've had such amazing growth because land expropriation is cheap and so is labor," he explained. "You also have the economy of scale -- other countries usually build a few hundred kilometers of tracks, but in China we're talking about thousands of kilometers."





All rail suspended in Sichuan for safety

No railways passengers or staff were injured when the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Sichuan province, China Railway Corporation said in a news statement on Saturday.


The Chengdu railway bureau suspended all trains in Sichuan province to ensure the safety of passengers and staff, the corporation said.


Meanwhile, it is still organizing staff to check the safety of railway lines and bridges in order to eliminate potential damage caused by the earthquake.


The corporation said it will ensure the supply of water and food to passengers who are stranded in the trains.







The silk railway: How to link Europe with East Asia?

Centuries ago the Orient supplied Europe with the wondrous luxuries it craved - jewels, silk, jade, spices - sending its produce along the dusty caravan route known as the Silk Road.


Today, China has become the world's workshop and Europe has an insatiable appetite for its exports. Most now arrive on giant container ships. But as ports become clogged and delivery times critical, China is again looking to the old land routes across Asia. But the new Silk Road China is planning will be made of steel.


At both ends of the route, rail systems are being developed and modernised apace. In Europe, new high-speed corridors are spreading across the continent.


In China, billions are being spent each year on a new network of 42 high-speed lines criss-crossing the country and opening up distant provinces. The problem, however, lies in the vast distance between East and West. Where are Asia's missing links? What is the best direct rail route from Beijing to London? And who will pay for this new Iron Silk Road?


A new Trans-Asia integrated freight railway has been on the drawing board for 40 years, the brainchild of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia. The commission has identified four possible routes: a northern corridor, linking Europe and the Pacific via Germany, Poland, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China; a southern corridor from Europe to southeast Asia, via Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Myanmar and Thailand; a southeast Asian network, consisting mainly of a link between Singapore and Kunming; and a north-south corridor from Helsinki through Russia to the Caspian, then splitting into three routes - to western Iran via Azerbaijan, across the Caspian Sea to Iran, and an eastern route via Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. All three would converge on Tehran and go on south to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.


Of the four, the northern route already exists. It is based largely on the Trans-Siberian railway.


The Trans-Siberian is capable of transporting 100 million tonnes of freight a year, but is almost saturated.


It is the central corridor, via Kazakhstan and Turkey, which is the most promising. This route, roughly following the old Silk Road, was long hampered by two missing links: between former Soviet Central Asia and Iran, and across the Bosphorus from Asiatic Turkey into Europe. But the past decade has seen rapid progress. Turkey has long had a well-developed network of railways of the same standard gauge as western Europe. But now, with a booming economy and ambitions to play a bigger role in the Middle East and Central Asia, Turkey is tackling two natural barriers: Lake Van and the Bosphorus.


A new rail ferry has been opened across Lake Van. The Bosphorus is a bigger obstacle. It is fast-flowing and immensely deep. Two road bridges are already saturated, and a third, now planned, has no provision for rail. Instead, Turkey is building a 13.3-kilometre rail tunnel. It will carry freight and high-speed trains as well as heavy commuter traffic into Istanbul from the Asian side. The tunnel's strategic importance is immense: it will be the first and only way of reaching Europe from Asia without passing through Russia.


China has already begun its own push west. It has a crossing point over the Alataw Pass in northwest Xinjiang into Dostyk, in Kazakhstan, and in 2009 completed a second link across the border into Khorgos. There is already a line running from Almaty, in Kazahkstan, through Tashkent, in Uzbekistan, to Tejen, in Turkmenistan, and ending at Turkmenbashi, a port on the Caspian Sea. In 1996, a branch was built south across the border into Iran. This was the missing link. In theory, a train from China can now enter Iran and cross south to the Gulf port of Bandar Abbas. Or it can turn west through the Caucasus or across to the Turkish border.


Three big obstacles are still holding up the completion of a Trans-Asian network, however: the different rail gauges; the need for agreed transit permits; and unstable politics in central Asia and Iran.


The gauge question was once formidable. The entire Soviet system uses a 1,520mm gauge. Turkey, Iran, China and Europe use standard gauge - 1,435mm. Railways in India and Pakistan use Indian broad gauge - 1,676mm. And most of Southeast Asia is metre gauge.


All passenger trains running from Russia to Berlin still have to be lifted up and have all the wheels changed. But for freight, almost all now containerised, it would be cheaper when crossing Asia simply to lift the containers off one broad-gauge train on to flatcars of a standard-gauge train.


There must also be agreement on standardized voltage, couplings, brakes, loading gauges and signalling systems.


More difficult to coordinate is bureaucracy. A train travelling through six or seven railway administrations needs agreed paths, customs clearances and permits. Who would coordinate the flow of international freight trains is unclear, and the chances of delay and opportunities to demand bribes are immense.


Perhaps the most difficult issue, though, is politics. Iran is a key link in any route to Turkey but is far from stable. Washington is unlikely to approve any major international investment in the Iranian rail system if this involves Western help and technology. Ankara, too, may find it increasingly difficult to negotiate with Tehran, even on technical matters.


Central Asia, too, is hardly welcoming to outside investment. Its rail systems are still run in close cooperation with Moscow, and the Russians are hostile to anything - such as a switch of gauge to a European standard - that would reduce Russian influence in its former republics. Corruption in these countries is rife, and there have been mysterious explosions and incidents that appear intended to sabotage plans for through routes.


One alternative is to build a line through western Afghanistan. A proposed 392-kilometre route would go from Kashgar in China to Iran via Herat, passing through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.


For more than a century, plans have been around to lay rails through Afghanistan. The geography of this mountainous country is one obvious barrier, but experts say that, as long as the Hindu Kush range can be skirted, the engineering challenges are surmountable - at a cost. The big problem is confidence in the country's stability.


Similarly, plans for a cross-Caucasus line via Georgia into eastern Turkey are bedevilled by the enmity between Armenia and Azerbaijan and by the long closure of Armenia's land border with Turkey.


All these schemes depend on vast investments, and most countries are looking to China for finance. The Chinese have been lavish in their promises to help, and whenever a minister visits the region, he tends to announce a new Chinese-sponsored rail project. The record is less impressive. China, for example, has made much of a so-called New Eurasian Land Bridge from Lianyungang in Jiangsu province, through Kazakhstan, to Rotterdam - a distance of 11,870 kilometres. But the route is still unclear, and so far only a few special trains have been sent on circuitous journeys to test the options.


Perhaps, in the end, like the old caravan routes, there will be a multiplicity of options, all broadly connecting the East and the West. Until the politics and the economies of the region can be better aligned, however, piecemeal progress is all that can be expected.


Michael Binyon is a former diplomatic editor of The Times.






Design "could begin this year" on Russian HS line

RUSSIAN Railways (RZD) says design work could begin by the end of this year on the 790km Moscow – Kazan section of the proposed 1600km Moscow – Yekaterinburg high-speed line.


The project to build Russia's first high-speed line was discussed at a recent meeting of the Public Council on the Development of High-Speed Rail in the Russian Federation, a consultative and advisory body formed in April 2012 to oversee the development of the high-speed network. During the meeting the first deputy chairman of the State Duma Mr Alexander Zhukov and RZD president Mr Vladimir Yakunin were elected co-chairs of the board.


Participants at the meeting recommended that the design phase of the Moscow – Kazan project should begin by the end of the year. RZD says funding could come from a range of sources, including the federal budget, RZD, pension funds, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, the National Welfare Fund, and infrastructure bonds.


At the meeting RZD first vice-president Mr Alexander Misharin said domestic suppliers will need to play a key role in the development of high-speed rail in Russia. "It is a mistake to believe that the project can be implemented in a turnkey manner, by importing machinery, materials, and engineering personnel," he said, citing the Ural Locomotives partnership between Siemens and Sinara, which is supplying Lastochka emus to RZD.


In February the Ministry of Transport indicated that construction could begin on the first high-speed line by early next year. The government's recently-published socio-economic plan for the period to 2030 envisages construction starting on the Moscow – St Petersburg line and the first phase of the Moscow – Kazan – Yekaterinburg line in late 2013 or early 2014.





Laos' ambitious railway plans

The intention is to move from a situation of no rail network at all, to a position where lines will criss-cross the country linking Laos to China, Vietnam and Thailand.


The cost will be enormous $7.2 billion for the link from the capital Vientiane to the Chinese border alone, and economists predict the project could bankrupt Laos.


So how realistic is the project?


Presenter: Richard Ewart


Speaker: Associate Professor Philip Laird, University of Wollongong, inaugural National Chairman of the Railway Technical Society of Australasia


LAIRD: It's early days yet, it's a proposal that's moving forward and if it gets some external help, for example, from China, it may well proceed. And China, in the last five years has made an enormous expansion of railways on four fronts: that's High Speed Rail, Metro Rail, Rail Freight, and Go West. And so it might well be that some Chinese interests are quite happy to build railways in neighbouring countries.


EWART: Now, my understanding is that picking up on that point that there is substantial Chinese money already tied up in this project in Laos. But the Asian Development Bank have come out and said they're not interested, it's just too expensive, this is going to bankrupt Laos. So would China want to be involved in a project which potentially could fall over?


LAIRD: Well, it depends on the prospective traffic. If there's good mineral traffic to be held and some of which may go into China, then that will add to the incentive to offset the cost and the risks involved to the government of Laos. So it's early days yet for that particular project, but there is a lot of railway expansion happening in Asia in the last 10 years and more is projected.


EWART: And as I understand it, the ASEAN Group of which Laos is a member, they are very keen to have essentially rail links throughout all the countries in that grouping. So I suppose this project would certainly fit that idea?


LAIRD: Again, there's lots of expansion of rail in Asia. Take, for example, only two months ago, the Prime Minister of Malaysia and the Prime Minister of Singapore entered into an agreement to build a high speed link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. There's another example, other examples say going back 10 years ago, include both China and Korea developing and expanding high speed rail networks and Japan has also continued to expand its Shinkansen network in the last 10 years with more being rolled out in the next three years.


EWART: Is there a danger though that the rate of expansion could be too rapid? I mean China, of course, has certainly had its problems, there've been some bad crashes be it essentially down to rushing infrastructure.


LAIRD: I think it's certainly the expansion in China has been enormous, but then, in railways. But it's perhaps a matter of not so much that they are too ahead, but in some states in Australia, we are really a bit behind. And take, for example, in China, in 1995, Shanghai had the beginning of one Metro line, now it has over 12 and it's a vital part of moving people around a very large city.


Now if you look and see what Sydney's going since 1995, it's not very impressive at all.


EWART: And we, of course, we had news last week of plans for a substantial link going from Melbourne, through Sydney and up to Brisbane. But they reckon it would take about 40 years to build that line. I mean is that an example of how Australia is lagging behind? I mean should it really take that long in this day and age to build a railway which you'd think was pretty important to a country like Australia?


LAIRD: Well, I think it's a long time to wait. But on the other hand, this Hume Highway, the reconstruction of the Hume Highway was underway by two state governments in the 1960s, got a real kick along from the Whitlam government in 1974, who founded a national highway system and yet from 1974 to 2013, we're its finally rolled out with the Holbrook Bypass, there's 39 years elapsed. But I think it's fair to say that in some cases we study, whilst others build.






China Jaipur Metro to have Thales passenger information system

DELHI Metro Rail Corporation, which is responsible for implementing the new two-line metro under construction in Jaipur, has awarded a contract to Thales for a passenger information system for the first line.


The system, which is similar to that installed on the Delhi Metro, will interface with the traffic management system to provide both visual and audio information. A single software platform will generate and distribute real-time traffic information to passengers both at stations and on trains. The system includes a synchronised announcement system.


The Green Line of the Jaipur Metro will be 12km long and will run from Mansarovar in the southwest via the main station to Badi Chaupar in the northeast and will have eight elevated and three underground stations. The first 9.7km section from Mansarovar to Chandpole is scheduled to open on June 30, while the rest of the line together with the Orange Line will be completed in March 2017.


The 23km Orange Line will extend from Amba Bari in the northwest, via Sindhi Camp where it will interchange with the Green Line, to Sitapura Industrial Area in the south of Jaipur. It will have five underground and 15 elevated stations.






CSR Puzhen to supply catenary-free LRVs to Nanjing

CSR Nanjing Puzhen has secured an order from the city of Nanjing for 15 low-floor LRVs, which are based on Bombardier's Flexity 2 technology and will serve two new light rail lines in the city, the 8km line in Hexi New City in southwest of the city, and the 9km line in Qilin Science and Technology Park in the east.


The LRVs will operate without overhead catenary on 90% of these lines using Bombardier's Primove system. The Hexi New City line will receive eight vehicles which will serve 13 stations, while the Alin line, which features steep gradients and partly-elevated sections over highways, will receive seven vehicles. The LRVs will enter revenue service in 2014.


CSR Puzhen will build the vehicles at its plant in Nanjing with Bombardier set to supply the propulsion and control equipment under a 10-year technology license agreement signed in 2012, which enables CSR Puzhen to sell and manufacture low-floor LRVs using Bombardier technology in China. Each of the 32m-long, 2.65m-wide LRVs will be equipped with two Lithium-Ion battery systems which are recharged during acceleration and designated stops.


The Nanjing contract is CSR Puzhen's second low-floor LRV order in China since it signed the technology agreement with Bombardier after it secured a contract with the city of Suzhou for 18 trams in January.


Istanbul's Marmaray rail to connect Beijing and London

A long-expected Turkish rail transport corridor called Marmaray will see the major cities of Beijing and London be connected with a rail line for the first time, a senior official said on Thursday.


Begun in 2004, construction of an undersea tunnel between the European and Asian shores of Istanbul now nears completion. The Marmaray project is one of the biggest transportation infrastructure projects in the world, featuring a 76-kilometer-long railway system that crosses the Bosporus at a depth of 60 meters.


Suleyman Karaman, the director of Turkish State Railways (TCDD) said on Thursday in Istanbul that Turkey is preparing to not only revolutionize its national transportation system but also to provide an alternative route to the Middle East, Middle Asia and the Far East, the fast-emerging global economy and energy hubs.


Karaman said an Eskisehir-?stanbul high-speed train line that incorporates the Marmaray line will be completed by the end of 2013, adding on to the initial connection between the continents of Asia and Europe. The Eskisehir-?stanbul high-speed train line will decrease the time required to travel between Ankara and ?stanbul to three hours, compared to the current six-hour journey.


Evaluating the developments in the Turkish railway sector, Karaman said Turkey has invested a total of $26 billion in railway infrastructure over the last decade. Karaman said they expected the Marmaray project be complete by September 30, 2013.


Karaman also noted that other high-speed train line projects such as Ankara-Sivas, Ankara-Bursa and Ankara-Izmir were under construction and expected to be completed by 2023. This will mean a total of 10,000 kilometers of high-speed train lines built in Turkey by 2023.


The TCDD head said with Marmaray and the Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railway project that links Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia, an “Iron Silk Road” will be established allowing passenger and cargo traffic from Europe to reach destinations as far away as Middle Asia and China more quickly via Turkey.







Russia Launches Rail-Mobile ICBM Project

Russia's Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology has started an R&D program to develop new rail-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) systems, Deputy Defense Minister Yury Borisov said on Tuesday.


The work is in the initial stages, he said, adding the cost of the program has yet to be determined. He provided no timeframe for the program.


The Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology is the developer of the Bulava (submarine-based) and Topol and Yars (land-based) ballistic missile systems.


A prototype system could be deployed by 2020, a Russian defense industry official told RIA Novosti in December. The new missiles will be half the weight of their decommissioned Soviet analogues, allowing them to fit into one railcar, he added.


The original rail-mobile system included SS-24 Scalpel missiles which weighed 104 tons, required three locomotives to move, and were so heavy that they damaged railroad tracks. The missiles were based on trains in order to make them harder to find than stationary launchers, complicating a counter-strike.


The Soviet military deployed its first rail-portable long-range missile in 1987, and had 12 of them by 1991. Rail-mobile missiles were removed from service in 2002 and the last base dismantled in 2007 under the START II arms reduction treaty with the United States.


However, the treaty’s successor, START III, agreed in 2010, does not prohibit development of rail-mobile ICBMs.


Russian military analyst Alexander Konovalov said last year this apparent return to cumbersome Soviet concepts, even in revamped form, was a “bad idea” and that missile trains were outdated.







China Railway Engineering Group Co. Signs Renovation Works Contract for the 175 Km Batschenga-Ka’a Railway

China Railway Engineering Group Co (CREC) and Buns companies signed the contract with the country’s railway management company, Camrail last Friday in Yaoundé to repair the railway line. The contract was signed in the presence of the Minister of Transport, Robert Nkili and Board Chair of Camrail, Hamadou Sali. And, according to the Minister, most rail accidents occur on this stretch due to degradation the line has suffered.


Expected to start a few weeks from now, the Board chair announced all resources are in place to respect the deadline and do quality work.


CREC will work on lot 1 demanding high technical know-how while Buns Company will take lot 2 comprising of less technical works.


Funded by the World Bank, the 7.5 billion francs CFA project is within the framework of easing transport and transit within the Central African and Monetary Commission (CEMAC).


The Minister also announced plans to reach Ngaoundéré after Ka’a. And, according to Nkili once the rail is refurbished till Ngaoundéré, linking to Chad and the Central African Republic is possible.


Expected to go up to three years, these works are part of the convention the State signed with Camrail in 2008 to invest 230 billion francs CFA between 2009 and 2020.






CNR Freight Locomotive acquired CIS’s “passport”

Recently, БКГ-1 AC locomotive passed CIS type approval. This is the first CIS “passport” that China’s high power freight locomotive acquired. The locomotive passed 125 tests organized by CIS, on traction, reliability, safety and pro-environment etc. testified its advanced technology and performance.


БКГ-1 AC locomotive is developed and manufactured by CNR for Belarus. It is a wide-gauge, 8 axles, high power, and AC transmission freight electric locomotive. The design of this locomotive accords with CIS’s standards and also takes into account European standards. The purchasing contract is of 12 sets and now 6 sets are put into commercial use in Belarus. The other 6 sets have passed the acceptance test and will leave for Belarus soon later.









The world’s fastest EMU for frigid area will run at 300km/h

CRH380B, developed and manufactured by CNR, is the world’s fastest EMU for frigid climate. From April 21st, CRH380B will run at its highest speed, 300km/h, according to the summer operation plan in Harbin-Dalian High Speed Railway.


Harbin-Dalian High Speed Railway carries out different operation plans in winter and summer. At Dec. 1st, 2012, CRH380B was put into use in this railway line in frigid area. Before that, it had run at 300km/h for two months trial. In this winter, the amount of snow was twice as normal years, reached average 19.2mm and maximum over 80mm. The average temperature was also the lowest in the past 30 years. CRH380B survived the extreme weather and snow storms with a good performance of speedy, steady, safe and comfortable, demonstrating its adaptability to extreme cold weather.








Harbin Subway Train winning “Oscar prize” 2013

February 22nd, in Munich BMW center, CNR won the top prize of “vehicle design 2013” in “IF Industry Design Prize”, which is treated as the “Oscar Prize” of design industry. The vehicle which is awarded the prize is the subway train custom-tailored for the “Ice City”-Harbin.


Harbin Subway adapts to extreme cold weather. Thanks to its perfect performance in snow and cold weather, it can keep operating under -38℃. One important reason that Harbin Subway is awarded this prize is its modern design and manufacture. Different to the normal water-drop shape, Harbin Subway is flat and modularization. The unique appearance makes the train modern and fashion.


“IF design prize” was founded by Germany Industry Design Association in 1953. It is one of the three world famous industry design prizes. Harbin Subway is the first train that is awarded golden prize in the past 60 years.






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