China's 300km/h High Speed Rail - How the GaoTie Works

Popularly known as “Gao Tie”高铁 China's high-speed Rail network has the highest operating speed globally and has for a long time been the backbone of the country's ernomous trasportation industry.

Having the largest high-speed rail network in the world, China’s high speed railway has been operational since 1999 with the construction of the Qinhuangdao – Shenyang High-Speed Railway. Annual ridership of the High Speed Trains has been on a steady increase since the inception and major plans are underway to connect China and her neighbours using the railway.

The Wuhan Railway Station in Wuhan City can be accessed by all trains making it an important transportation hub for travellers.

The Wuhan Railway Station in Wuhan City can be accessed by all trains making it an important transportation hub for travellers.

But it has not been a smooth ride for China Railway Corporation because of the Wenzhou Railway Collision. Like any large infrastructure project, the High Speed Railway has not been immune to funding shortages and corruption in the past. However with the state's backing, plans are being laid to make China the modern railway country.

Rolling Stock

High Speed railway in China is mostly driven by electricity. Old diesel engines were retired infavour of the new imported and locally made bullet trains environment and operational costs.The common trains can be divided into 3 types by operating speed.

  1. High Speed Bullet Train (G-Train) - 305+ km/h
  2. Fast Train (D-Train) - 200+ km/h
  3. Slow Train (K-Train) - 120+ km/h

The High Speed Bullet Train after inception had a maximum speed of 350km/h however after the Wenzhou Train Collision, massive changes were effected on the high speed rail network whereby speeds were lowered due to safety reasons. Despite the reduction in speed, the train has been a favourite the for the business and tourism passengers who have to travel long distances. Most major cities which have large train stations have connection points for the Bullet Train.

The 3 Common Trains in China. L-R Slow Train(K-Train), High Speed Train(G-Train) and Fast Train(D-Train )

The 3 Common Trains in China. L-R Slow Train(K-Train), High Speed Train(G-Train) and Fast Train(D-Train )

Apart from the above there are other trains which have much lower operating speed. Some are specifically customised for tourists and cut through beautiful sceneries of China's mountainous landscape.

In remote areas of China, the Slow Speed train is used and passengers can connect to high speed trains in big cities. The Slow train can reach a maximum speed of 120km/h

In remote areas of China, the Slow Speed train is used and passengers can connect to high speed trains in big cities. The Slow train can reach a maximum speed of 120km/h

The D and K - Trains have lower speeds but are very important since they connect remote locations of the country where tracks for the Bullet Trains have not penetrated yet. Most remote tourists spots are served by the K - Trains. The D-Trains which are relatively fast serve most stations around the vast country. Most but not all units are owned and operated by the China Railway Corporation. The Shanghai Maglev (Magnetic Leviation) is owned and operated by the Shanghai Municipal Government.

Boarding and Ticketing

There has been rising concerns over the high cost of ticketing for the Bullet Train in China but despite this annual ridership has grown steadily. Various security measure have been adopted to reduce the number of fake tickets being produced. Recently the ID/Passport Numbers of ticket passengers have been printed onto the tickets.

A sample High-Speed Passenger ticket. QR Codes have been introduced as a security measure.

A sample High-Speed Passenger ticket. QR Codes have been introduced as a security measure.

  1. 2014年07月04日 16:08开 - Time and Date of Departure
  2. 南京售 - Place of Ticket Purchase
  3. 13车 06B号 - Car and Seat Location
  4. 南京 -- 惠山 Nanjing and HuiShan - Departure and Arrival Stations
  5. G7071次 - Train Number. Here 次 means this is a one way ticket.
  6. 74.50 元 - Price of Ticket (Yuan)
  7. Passenger Name and ID/Passport Number
  8. 二楼2,4候车室 - Passengers waiting hall and boarding gates.
  9. Security QR Code swiped at boarding gates
  10. Appearing at the top and bottom section are serial numbers

The tickets can be very confusing for non-chinese speakers especially tourists flocking into China. While measures are being put into place to help visitors when buying tickets, its still not easy to buy tickets especially at peak season. Its advisable to arrive at the station one hour before departure for convenience. Tickets once sold cannot be exchanged for cash, however in the event of a passenger missing a train, they can simply change it for the other available train. In China tickets can be bought at the train station, online and through licenced agents who will charge a fee, almost 5%. For online purchasers, they proceed to the station and a ticket is issued.

Passengers prepare to board the High-Speed Train

Passengers prepare to board the High-Speed Train

Passengers are allowed on the platform at least 10 minutes before the train arrives. Due to the platform being a high risk area, all persons on the platform should keep behind the yellow line until the train has arrived. Once boarded overhead information is projected in Chinese and English language.

Safety vs Comfort

A ride on the High Speed Train is perhaps the closest mode of transport to an aero plane. Despite the neck-braking speed of 300km/h the suspension and hydraulics will ensure that that the passenger is very comfortable. So stable is the train that the seats have no safety belts and acceleration/deceleration is gradual to ensure that you remain stable on your seat. The cabin is well pressurised and rapid change in air pressure will not be felt. Cabin crew are also available to serve drinks and help lost passengers locate their seats.

A train hostess awaits to usher in passengers when the train comes to a halt.

A train hostess awaits to usher in passengers when the train comes to a halt.

Inside the passenger cabin of the High-Speed Train. First Class are more spacious but the price is equaly high. Ridership has been on a steady increase.

Inside the passenger cabin of the High-Speed Train. First Class are more spacious but the price is equaly high. Ridership has been on a steady increase.

Due to the high speed involved, safety regulations are strictly adhered to. However this has not always been the case since the Wenzhou Train Collision where a faulty sensor allowed two trains to meet on a single rail. While the accident was not attributed to the speed since both were below 99km/h and one was stationery, changes were effected and lessons were learnt from the accident. One notable change was the reduction of max speed of the high speed trains from 350km/h to 305km/h presently.

Accessibility, Reliability and Economy

The main high-speed rail network in China is like a grid, which mainly consists of 8 long-distance high-speed rail lines: four north–south HSR lines and four east–west HSR lines. Except for the Qingdao–Taiyuan HSR, all HSR lines of the rail grid are longer than 1,000 kilometers. In 2012 the total length of HSR lines in the main grid reached 12,000 kilometres. The main lines include

  1. Beijing–Tianjin Intercity Railway 115km 300km/h 33 minutes
  2. Chengdu–Dujiangyan Intercity Railway 65km 220km/h 35 minutes
  3. Shanghai–Nanjing Intercity Railway 301km 300km/h 1 hour and 35 minutes
  4. Nanchang–Jiujiang Intercity Railway 131km 250km/h 1 hour
  5. Hainan Eastern Ring Railway 308km 250km/h 1 hour and 34 minutes
  6. Changchun–Jilin Intercity Railway 111km 250km/h 40 minutes
  7. Guangzhou–Zhuhai Intercity Railway 117km 200km/h 59 minutes
  8. Nanjing–Hangzhou Intercity Railway 251km 350km/h 1 hour and 35 minutes

Mordern stations like the Nanjing Railway Station have platforms for the High and Low Speed trains.

Mordern stations like the Nanjing Railway Station have platforms for the High and Low Speed trains.

Along the route of the major High Speed Railway stations, slower trains can also be boarded especially to remote locations. Most of the High Speed Railway is raised on viaducts due to uneven terrain. Plans for expanding the high speed railway network are underway despite critics questioning the viability of the project in a largely developing country. During the Annual Spring festival, many buy tickets and will not get a seat, so will prefer to sit on the floor. Such tickets are available. A clear sign that despite the demand being high, some cannot afford a ticket even on the slower and cheaper trains.

The electricity cable network that the high speed rail runs on. These cables run long the entire length of the track.

The electricity cable network that the high speed rail runs on. These cables run long the entire length of the track.

China is working on plans to connect her neighbours using the high-speed railway line. The centerpiece of the MOR's expansion into high-speed rail is a new national high-speed rail grid that is overlaid onto the existing railway network. According to the MOR's "Mid-to-Long Term Railway Network Plan" (revised in 2008), this grid is composed of eight high-speed rail corridors, four running north-south and four going east-west, and has a total of 12,000 km. Most of the new lines follow the routes of existing trunk lines and are designated for passenger travel only. They are known as passenger-designated lines (PDL). Several sections of the national grid, especially along the southeast coastal corridor, were built to link cities that had no previous rail connections.

The High-Speed Trains cruise at speeds of 304km/h and will maintain this speed for the whole journey.

The High-Speed Trains cruise at speeds of 304km/h and will maintain this speed for the whole journey.

Shanghai's Maglev Train, launched in 2004, has the maximum speed of 431 km/h. It runs between Shanghai Pudong International Airport and Shanghai's Longyang Road Metro Station at intervals of 15 to 20 minutes. The journey is only about 8 minutes, and a one-way ticket is RMB 50.