Thursday, December 29, 2011

More high-speed rail lessons from our Chinese Masters

Here come several China watching blog entries.  

To misquote the headline from this English-speaking Chinese online newspaper:

'Despite former crash, China unveils a train that can crash at 310 miles an hour.'  

(I love the fact that I'm writing this on the 28th, and this article is dated the 31st.  Well, the Chinese are ahead of us on everything, aren't they?)

You understand that speeds like 300 mph+, other than in aircraft, can be only found at the Bonneville Salt Flats, where, when a vehicle loses control, or parts start coming off, the machine and its driver continue to skid for a quarter of a mile more.  If you thought the July Chinese HSR accident was bad, wait until a 300 mph train bites the dust!

Presumably, these 300 mph trains will be steel-wheel-on-steel-tracks.  Ah well, China, what could possibly go wrong? Perhaps the Chinese are thinking of vertigo inducing amusement rides, with inverts, vertically banked rail, and paying customers strapped in.  

To remind you, this is the nation with the leading high-speed rail program in the world who had a nightmare train wreck this past July and discovered -- surprise! -- that corruption and faulty workmanship, including bad design/construction of signalling, was at fault. WOW! Who could have predicted that!

Meanwhile, official reports emanating from this "highly transparent" nation, suggest that over fifty guys are now in very deep doo-doo over the previous crash.  And, as we recall, the corruption, faulty construction, and other shenanigans were dealt with only upon exposure in the press, after lengthy attempts to suppress this information.  (The first thing they did was to bury the worst of the train cars to conceal that there even was a crash. Later they had to dig it up.)

Now China is running their existing HSR somewhat slower than they used to. What can we conclude from their high-speed rail program and its setbacks and future plans?  Are there any lessons for us to learn here?  

I gather than the only thing we have learned is to be highly envious of their HSR program, and being so used to the role of Leader of the Universe, we persist in believing that we must also have such a program, or slink shamefully in the shadows of the rest of the industrial and developing world.  

Being a cautious sort, I suggest that we wait for the next Chinese HSR disaster before we proceed to pour our scarce resources down the drain.

What this article doesn't include is the recently announced huge financial hole that their up-to-now HSR program has produced.  They can't meet their debt payments.  So, I ask again, is there anything we should be learning from the Chinese about high-speed rail programs?

There will be a follow-on blog entry about Chinese high-speed rail fun and games right after this one.

Published on GlobalPost (

Despite crash, China unveils train that can reach 310 miles an hour
By Freya Petersen
Created 1969-12-31 19:00

Despite a July crash that killed 40 people, China is pushing ahead with high speed rail, unveiling a prototype which Chinese state media claims can reach 310 miles per hour.

(GlobalPost reports: China's bullet train crash blamed on design flaws, sloppy management [3])

The crash near the south-eastern city of Wenzhou, which also injured almost 200 people, led to accusations that the government was putting the development and profit of its bullet train network before safety.

Officials have since been accused of trying to cover up the causes of the crash, although China's the State Council said on Wednesday that in an investigation had found design flaws and missteps by 54 officials led to the disaster.

Liu Zhijun, the country's former railway minister, and Zhang Shuguang, the railway ministry's deputy chief engineer, are among the 54, Xinhua reported [4]. Both were removed from office earlier this year, Xinhua wrote.

After the crash, in which a high-speed train made by state-owned train maker CSR Corp rammed into the back of another, the government ordered a slowdown of all trains.

The slowdown "welcomed by foreign experts – was reiterated and broadened under orders of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, effectively cutting all speeds by up to 50 kilometers per hour," according to the Wall Street Journal [5].

However, at the weekend, CSR unveiled the new experimental train in the eastern province of Shandong at the weekend that can reach 310 miles an hour, the China Daily newspaper said [6].

That compares with the top speed of 186 miles an hour per hour China’s trains are now supposed to be running.

According to the China Daily:

    The six-carriage train with a tapered head is the newest member of the CRH series. It has a maximum drawing power of 22,800 kilowatts, compared with 9,600 kilowatts for the CRH380 trains now in service on the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway, which hold the world speed record of 300 km [186 m] per hour.

The bodywork of the train, whose design was inspired by the ancient Chinese sword, according to Ding Sansan, the company's chief technician, "uses plastic material reinforced with carbon fiber," according to the report.

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