Beijing Shows Off Latest Fast Rail Link

The new Beijing-Shanghai link is the newest source of pride for Chinese engineers and officials. On Monday, the Ministry of Railways hosted 250 journalists for ride on the train before its public opening on Friday July 1, the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. From Reuters:

With its fully reclining airline-style business class seats, a strict no-smoking policy and designed top speed of 350 km (220 miles) per hour, the new Beijing-Shanghai express embodies China’s race to the future.

The new line’s launch is coordinated with the 90th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party to highlight the “scientific development” slogan dear to the heart of Chinese president and party secretary Hu Jintao.

It is the latest and most feted portion of a network the government hopes will stretch 45,000 km (27,960 miles) by the end of 2015.

“This is the pride of China and the Chinese people,” Ministry of Railways chief engineer He Huawu told reporters at the Beijing South Station before a trial run on Monday.

While the train is reportedly designed to go at speeds of up to 250 kilometers per hour, in reality it is not expected to exceed 300 kph, due to safety concerns and more cautious standards put in place after the downfall of disgraced former Minister of Railways Li Zhijun. For that reason, the train used in the press junket did not display driving speeds, as other similar trains do in China. The Financial Times reports:

Ministry officials have repeatedly insisted in recent years that China has been able to “absorb and digest” high-speed train technology it bought from international companies such as Siemens, Alstom, Kawasaki and Bombardier and then “re-innovate” to create its own intellectual property.

But in a scathing interview published in Chinese media last week, a former senior railway ministry official said the core technology behind China’s high-speed trains was still foreign.

Zhou Yimin, former deputy director of the ministry’s high-speed department, said when China bought foreign technology, the purchase contracts stated that trains should not run faster than 300km/h but the ministry under Mr Liu had ignored safety issues and fixated on running trains faster and faster.

Issues over intellectual property, safety and reliability are ever more important to China’s state-controlled industry, which is seeking to expand into international markets.

An official from the Ministry of Railways disputed Zhou Yimin’s claims and insisted the high-speed trains are “fast, comfortable and safe”.

Journalists along for the ride tweeted the experience. See @Bendilaowai, @taniabranigan and @limlouisa. All in all, the reviews were positive. From NPR’s Louisa Lim:

Arrived in shanghai. Big thumbs up to high speed train (fast, clean, comfy) big thumbs down to their dining facilities (kfc, 3 in 1 coffee)

And from the Guardian’s Tania Branigan:

On the Beijing-Shanghai high speed link. 300kmph, v smooth ride and great scenery. May never take the plane again…

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