Written by: TrainSim-James
China has the largest High Speed Rail network in the world, with new, passenger-dedicated lines spanning a phenomenal 22,000 km across the mammoth nation, whisking millions of passengers between 29 of the country’s Provinces at speeds in excess of 350 km/h.
How did China accelerate from strength to strength, turning a declining industry into a renowned high-speed sensation? Now is the time to find out as the incredible Southwest China High Speed Network, from Simtech Vision and Just Trains, is speeding its way to Steam!
What is now the largest high speed rail network, outmatching every other system in the World combined, began in 1997 when a radical series of ‘Speed Up’ campaigns were undertaken to improve the sorry-state railways of China. Diesel-powered passenger trains were forced into sharing tracks with freight across the country, and when combined with the limiting topography that governed the network, many services were losing out to road and air traffic.
The ‘Speed Up’ campaigns sought to, and succeeded in revolutionising China’s railway network. Between 1997 and 2004, a total of 5 campaigns ushered in a host of notable and appreciated changes; new lines were built to separate passenger and freight traffic, a number of routes were electrified, the introduction of modern tunnels and viaducts put an end to steep gradients and, by the end of all that, many lines were capable of 200 km/h, uninterrupted operation.
The next phase, the one which would change inter-city travel in China forever, would be to build a brand new, passenger-dedicated high speed network and acquire a vast fleet of high speed trains to operate on the new routes.
Planners were divided by proposals for the new network as early as 1998. Of course, conventional rail would be a proven and reliable option, however there were some who suggested that Maglev technology, as used in Shanghai for the City-Airport connection since 2004, could also be very beneficial, especially where speed was concerned. If chosen, Maglev trains could’ve been racing through the Chinese countryside at anything between 430 and 500 km/h, however with the resulting and extensive cost of the 19 mile trek in Shanghai, conventional rail triumphed.
By 2007, the first high speed rail lines had been completed, allowing for 250 km/h operation. Following the initial success, new routes would start sprouting across the country, and it wasn’t long before 350, even 380 km/h service was possible between the prominent cities and regions of China.
Maintaining the high speed lines is essential, however much of China’s network can surpass the standard works required on conventional lines, albeit at a cost. Instead of the traditional ballast approach, the rails are mounted on set concrete slabs, this is more expensive yet provides a smoother ride and fairs better under the higher speeds.
To lessen the impact on journey times, and to avoid the costs of land acquisition, a significant percentage of the Chinese High-Speed Railway network is built upon vast viaducts. Similarly, many tunnels are also present, further keeping the track as level as possible for the trains that cut through the landscape.
By 2011, passenger numbers had surpassed those of the major short-haul local flights, which found themselves all but replaced by high speed rail; people would opt to travel on the cheaper and hassle-free journeys through the countryside. Fast forward, and China’s high speed railway network handled over 1.44 Billion passengers in 2016, a record-breaking feat.
In order to operate this vast network, China was in need of various high speed train designs that would be capable of rapid acceleration, maintaining comfort, and above all – achieving high speeds. Ensuring local self-sustainability in the Chinese manufacturing plants, technology transfers were requested as part of the rolling stock bid; this would allow foreign successes to be utilised on the growing high speed lines.
One company in particular, Bombardier, had been sharing technology with China since 1998 and was able to provide their Regina family for 250 km/h operations on the new dedicated high speed lines. Construction of the new EMUs, which were classified as the CRH1A, was a joint venture between Bombardier and China’s manufacturers and a total of 186 8-car units exist today.
Another of Bombardier’s designs, based on their Zefiro 250 family, was ordered as the CRH1E; a 16-car high speed sleeper EMU, the first of its kind in the world. 20 CRH1E trainsets operate throughout the night across China, featuring homely sleeper booths and conventional passenger compartments to traverse the landscape under the shroud of dusk, with passengers awaking in a new city or region.
It wasn’t just whole trainsets that were part of the technology transfer, various separate components – once standardised through Chinese development – would allow new, independent designs to appear. The CRH380A entered service in 2010, and it is not directly based on any specific foreign design. As the name implies, this cutting-edge EMU is easily capable of 380 km/h in service, slicing journey times and paying dividends to China’s high speed reputation.
Coming soon to Steam from Partner Programme developers Simtech Vision and Just Trains, the Southwest China High Speed Network will deliver the breath-taking experience of racing through over 570km of Chinese countryside. Run between Chengdu, Suining, Chongqing, Nanchong and even more in the CRH1A EMU, or explore the inter-city rails at night in the CRH1E. Also coming soon, as a Twin Pack with the Southwest China High Speed Network, the CRH380A will permit top speed running in one of the world’s fastest trains, and the fastest conventional rail traction in Train Simulator! ■