How the World’s Most Complex High-Speed Rail System Came to Be

Author: Jenny Yao

Editors: Shamsia Ahmed and Liane Xu

Artist: Cherry Dong

China has the largest population in the world, which means there is always a high demand for transportation. Construction on China’s high speed train system, which would be the largest and the most advanced of its kind in the world, began in 2004. The high-speed train system has high-speed rail integration technology, construction technology, equipment technology and operating management systems.

Today, there are more than 1,300 high-speed trains in China, the largest collection in the world. Trains cover various speed levels from 200 kilometers per hour to 380 kilometers per hour and the cumulative operating mileage of a typical electrical multiple unit (EMU) train is about 1.6 billion kilometers.

From introducing foreign technology to creating their own technology, China now has created their own High speed train and made a complex system. Engineers are continuously finding new ways to upgrade both the passenger experience and rail technology. In a recent press conference, China revealed that it is developing new bullet trains with speeds of up to 400 kilometers per hour. According to Ding, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, "We are now focusing on how to link TV signals to the trains so that passengers will be able to enjoy films on window-turned screens.” He also said that a permanent magnet drive system has been added to trains and is undergoing assessment, adding that automatic and unmanned drive technology will be used in the future. Also, the maximum speed of China's bullet trains rose to 350 kph, when the Fuxing (Rejuvenation) bullet trains started operation between Beijing and Shanghai on September 21, 2017. The Fuxing trains are a substantial upgrade on the previous Hexie (Harmony) bullet trains. Entirely designed and manufactured in China, the Fuxing train is more spacious and energy-efficient, with longer service life and better reliability.

The more complex and advanced the system is, the more the high speed trains will change the way people live. The benefits of high-speed rail include shortening travel time, improving travel safety, and promoting labor mobility and tourism. As some passengers switch from cars and airplanes to high-speed rail, the high-speed rail network reduces operating costs, reduces traffic accidents, eases highway congestion, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

In the high-speed EMU production factory in Changchun, dozens of brand-new "Fuxing" EMUs are lined up, and workers are intensively performing assembly operations. At the entrance of the workshop, the word "Dream" is engraved. A group of designers and engineers work day and night to make breakthroughs and constantly tackle key problems to strengthen the train’s "power heart" and implement every project indicator. When developing the EMU trains, engineers found that snow wears down the brake disks of the trains, and this wear is most obvious in the vehicles from Changchun to Shenyang. According to regulations, the degree of wear of the brake disc is limited to 7 mm. If it exceeds, it must be replaced. This problem was particularly challenging to solve. According to Qiao Feng, one of the main engineers, "Ask the supplier, they don't know, and if they ask their foreign counterparts, they haven't encountered a similar situation.” Reviewing the data and analyzing the brake disks, Qiao Feng and his colleagues pondered why the snow was causing damage and worked hard on creating a solution. In the end, their hard work paid off. They discovered that the special shape of snowflakes wears out the brake discs in the temperature range of -5°C to 5°C. After finding out the cause, the problem was solved.

Today, the builders of the Beijing-Zhangjiakou High-speed Railway have developed the world's most advanced mud-water balance shield machine, built the world's largest buried underground high-speed railway station, and simultaneously promoted the construction of physical railways and "digital railways" with 5G signal, wireless charging, smart light adjustment, stepless color-changing windows, and barrier-free facilities. On the day that the Beijing-Zhangjiakou high-speed rail was opened, people marveled at all the advanced technology on the smart Beijing-Zhangjiakou high-speed rail experience train. "This is the world's first automatic driving at a speed of 350 kilometers per hour. The train's automatic driving system can autonomously calculate a safe, energy-saving and efficient driving mode based on the line conditions, which greatly reduces the labor intensity of the driver," Wang Dongfang, the head of design, said. From mastering the complete set of technologies for high-speed rail construction under complex geological and climatic conditions to overcoming a series of worldwide technical problems in the field of railway engineering construction, the completion of the high-level, mature, and complete high-speed rail technology system was no easy task. With engineers continuously improving the system, China's high-speed rail "golden card" keeps getting brighter and brighter.

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