China’s High Speed Rail Goes Slow

China has been a darling of the pro HS2 lobbying until recently.  They have admired the speed with which China has been building new high speed rail lines, implying that if China, with its vast landmass,  has a high speed network, Britain should have one too.

But this gilt on the new Chinese railway system is rubbing off.

First there were concerns about whether China could afford the number of high speed lines that were being built, especially as the tickets were too expensive for migrant workers who make up the bulk of travellers during peak seasons.

Next the Minister of Railways was sacked for fraud charges.

And there were more concerns about the safety of the network, in part because the railways were being built faster then the construction materials could be produced.

The latest news is that the Chinese railways will all be slower in future then at present. The article says “The inter-city lines that usually connect major centers within regions should be operated at between 200 and 250 km/h, while most railways in central and western China will operate at less than 200 km/h.” (A few lines will operate at 300kph.)

And how does that compare to British trains?

The Chinese intercity trains will be at the same speed, or slightly faster, then trains on the West Coast Main Line in Britain, and other Chinese trains will be going slower then the West Coast Main Line.

32 comments to “China’s High Speed Rail Goes Slow”
  1. Surely one of the critical elements in the article is China are concerned about the costs. They are now one of the richest countries in the world (well,when the west esp USA pay all their debts to them) and they are looking at value for money.
    They are considering the fact most people cann’t afford to use HSR.
    Why can’t the DfT be this sensible?

  2. Gary, having yet again clicked on all the links, tabs etc on the Campaign for HSR website, I still can’t find a facility to make anything but a positive comment on HS2, unless you mean the off-site Facebook and Twitter links? Can you help me out here, please?

    • Rose – click on the ” blog ” header , then under each article there is a ” comment ” icon, similar to what you have on here. I was just reading a comment about the ” no vegetation ” issue posted by someone who is obviously in the stopHS2 camp.

      • Thanks, Gary, but we don’t seem to be talking about the same website. The one I’m looking at (pages headed ‘Yes to HS2’ but with website name ‘’) has no ‘Blog’ at all, and it’s not for want of looking.

  3. Penny

    You don’t seem up to speed (sorry, couldn’t resist) on this matter do you?

    This article is essentially a reworking of a piece appearing in the Economist back in March

    And guess what, the Economist article was castigated by anyone with a modicum of knowledge of China (that includes me), when it first appeared

    So I can only echo the comments from @Rich above

    Much ado about nothing just about sums it up

    • Peter, it appears to be you who is not up to speed on this story. If you read the China Daily article cited by Stop HS2, you will see that the announcement that China’s high-speed trains would be operating more slowly from 1 July was only made by Sheng Guangzu, the new Chinese railways minister, last Wednesday.

      This is quite different from the story in the Economist in March, which suggested that the construction of high-speed railways might slow, not the actual trains.

      • @Sandy

        But the article isn’t just about that single aspect is it?

        Whichever way you try to spin it, China is still investing massively in High Speed Rail – some of the trains may not run at quite the speeds originally planned but so what?

      • Oh and by the way Sandy – the LGV Est Européen running between Paris and Strasbourg (when the 2nd phase of construction completes in 2016) is designed to run at 350km/h although the trains currently run at 320km/h – there is of course also a special section within this line built to even higher speed tolerances, where the 574km/h world record for a railed system was established

        • These arguments about speed only emphasise what the pro HS2 camp is all about, i.e. vested interests of those with something to gain for themselves or their companies, regardless of cost to the nation, to local communities or to the environment. If the pro HS2 lobby is so convinced of their argument, then use your website to promote a public inquiry into high speed rail. at least the transport select committee have attempted to go some way towards that.

          • Simon – I think you will find that I have already said there should be a full public inquiry on this website…….

            I myself have no vested interest in this…….so your comment is incorrect.

  4. It is very interesting that China is reducing the speed of its high-speed trains.

    HS2 is being designed to take 400kph (250mph) trains at the expense of the environment and our natural heritage. (Ultra-high-speed trains need very straight tracks that can’t be curved to avoid sensitive features.)

    No wheel-based high speed rail services run at these ultra-high speeds anywhere in the world. China had been planning to develop them, but has decided on safety and environmental grounds to reduce speeds to 300kph or below.

    There was nothing in the original brief requiring HS2 Ltd to design the line for 250mph running: the expectation was that trains would travel at least as fast as HS1 trains (186mph), but that’s all.

    It is now becoming clear that HS2 is being designed for ultra-high-speed trains – with all the environmental damage this would bring – not because this is in the country’s best interests but in order to support the Department for Transport’s financial modelling requirements, in other words in order to stop their Cost-Benefit Ratio coming out as a negative figure.

    The Transport Secretary has been heard admitting as much himself, saying that if the trains were designed to go any slower, his Cost-Benefit Ratio wouldn’t work out, and he wouldn’t be able to justify building HS2 at all.

    This is not the way to go about designing a project of this scale and cost.

  5. Next the Minister of Railways was sacked for fraud charges.

    What’s this got to do with anything? Is this some hopeless attempt at implying that the same thing is bound to happen here?

  6. And one of the things the anti-HS2 lobby is keen on telling us is that the UK is different (geography etc), and what happens in other countries which have HSR shouldn’t be compared to the UK, which apparently, is different.

    Except it seems when an opportunity to present a bit of spin comes up. Then, comparisons with whichever country has come up in Google News suddenly become valid.

    • The geography of China is different, so there is no reason for Britain to make decisions on our infrastructure based on what they are doing.

      But when China changes what they are doing, and makes it more like what Britain is doing, why shouldn’t we highlight that on Stop HS2?

      • Of course what Penny failed to highlight was the fact that Chinese Rail carries a lot more freight than our network …indeed there are some 3000 locomtoives dedicated to this task in China. HS2 will free up a whole load of capacity on the existing network, which will delight the rail freight industry whose expansion plans and removal of HGVs from our roads are being held back.

        • There was a lot of information I didn’t put into the article.

          Part of the reason that the Chinese started building high speed rail was to release capacity for freight. However the high speed fares were so expensive that migrant workers couldn’t afford them, causing the problems highlighted in some of the links in the article above.

          • Indeed penny ….you only chose to put info in your post to suit your cause… was pointed out above, the fact that a rail minister was sacked for fraud charges has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that HS2 will be going through the Chilterns, some of it in tunnel…..

            • Oh come off it Gary: first of all you complain I didn’t put in enough information about Chinese railways, and now you are complaining I put in too much.

              Luckily the editor (oh, that’ll be me) is happy with the articles I write. But no doubt you’ll find a way to complain about that as well….

            • I wasnt complaining at all…..I was simply pointing out that you only potray one side of a story that supposedly suits the needs of the stopHS2 campaign. And as I ve mentioned previously , you seem to run off when I challenge……

              The fact that China is probably the world biggest contributor of greenhouse gas and have signed up to the Kyoto Protocol is probably something you need to research…..when you have the time of course !!!

            • It’s very flattering that you think I’m the best person to research about China and the Kyoto Protocol for you, however I’m sure you are capable of finding out everything you want to know about it for yourself.

            • As a compare and contrast exercise relating to ‘sides of the story, spin etc’, Gary and others, you might like to look at the website of the Campaign for HSR, or ‘Yes to HS2′, as the pages’ title runs. Then you can send them a message if you wish to join them or donate to help out all the ‘business people’ who have signed the letter. What you don’t appear to be able to do, and I have clicked on all the tabs, is to write a comment that will be read by visitors to the website.

            • Oh I already knew what it was Penny… doubt you yourself had to ” google ” it to find out what I was talking about. By the time HS2 is built , you are going to have a lot more worldly knowledge than you had before this campaign started.

              Rose..there is a facility to leave comments, thought there doesnt seem to be many ….which is probably because the HS2 site is quoting actual facts and not perpetuating myths like you guys do……

            • Efficiency is relative. All other things being equal, where you need one windmill to power a train at 125mph, you need 4 windmills for it to go at 250mph.

          • On the subject of Kyoto, Britain has also signed up to very ambitious carbon reduction targets. Whether because of climate change or peak oil, this issue should be paramount in all government departments when planning policy – especially transport.

            Trains travelling at 250mph use 4 times more energy that at 125mph, so you might well ask if our government is really serious about reducing energy use.

            Mr Hammond says “We’re going to de-carbonise the grid” so power stations will be less polluting. He also says that the next 30 years will see a shift from high carbon to low carbon based road travel. What he does not say is where the zillions of extra gigawatts of electric power are going to come from. Energy minister Chris Huhne has said Britain must build thousands more wind turbines to cope with energy demands. Does this mean that HS2 would have to slow down when the weather is becalmed?

            The world is facing major uncertainty regarding energy supplies. Anyone interested in how serious and far reaching this could be should take the time to look at this video clip

            • So trains travelling at 250mph use 4 TIMES as much energy as trains travelling at 125mph…….yet your own MYTHS section on this website states its only 3 times ?????? If the stopHS2 campaigners are going to try and perpetuate a myth, make sure you are all singing from the same hymn sheet lol!!!!! Dear me…..

              Anyway, back to reality and to put things into perspective ….to give all you who are unaware ( which in reality means the stopHS2 campaign ) , rolling stock design really is becoming a lot more energy efficient…for example, Japans new model of bullet train uses 20% less energy to attain the same speed as the previous model. Also , advances in regenerative braking means that 1 out of every 7 current pendolino service actually runs for free….they are also being fitted with on board meters to further acquire efficiencies….

            • Hi Gary,
              A new HS train may well be better than an old HS train, but this is like proclaiming that your new car is more efficient than your previous one and ignoring the far more significant fact that it still uses far more energy at 100mph than at 50mph. As far as I’m aware even HS2 has not found a way of getting around the laws of physics.

              Note as well that a pendolino (or anything else) with regenerative braking is simply more energy efficient than something without – it does not in any way ‘run for free’ (or as Alstom implies even more comically ‘power 13,750 homes for a year’.) I don’t mean to dismiss this technology, because it is clearly a great improvement, just warn against counting a single benefit twice over.

            • Hi Gary,

              I assume by your glib and meaningless answer that you acknowledge the point I was making? Or maybe I need to make this clearer:

              a) train starts and draws electricity to get going (converts electrical into kinetic energy).
              b) train travels along, continuing to draw electricity which for a train is predominately to fight air resistance (which increases with the square of the speed, i.e. twice as fast = four times the air resistance). This energy is dissipated as heat and noise – lost for good.
              c) train wants to slow down or stop, which can be achieved (except in emergencies) by converting the kinetic energy of the train back into electricity. This is a good thing, but it is just giving back a little of what has been taken. I personally would describe this as this train takes about 17% less energy than a normal one, but If it makes you happier to think of this as a normal train that powers Christmas tree lights then by all means do so – but it is one or the other not both. In other words: my current car does about 60mpg which I think of as being more efficient that the one I had 10 years ago which did 30mpg. In your world I still have a ‘30mpg car’ but as I drive along it magically generates a pile of fuel that is somehow ‘free’ or used to heat old people’s homes or similar.

              Some related points:

              Now that trains have regenerative braking they will be approaching their theoretical energy efficiency – I would not expect there is another 20% efficiency gain to be easily made in the future.

              Step (b) above is the one that uses the most power in a long distance journey, and speed is the biggest effect on the power used. Doubling the speed will increase the energy consumption at this point by a factor of about four (assuming fixed loads such as lights/heating/aircon are comparatively small)

            • Andrew – I would point out that the latest model of Shinkansen train ( the one that looks like a ducks bill ) uses the same energy travelling at 300km/hour as a Pendolino travelling at 200km/hour.

              We do not know what rolling stock is to be used yet on HS2, but we can be certain that it will be the latest spec… Im not sure how anyone can make a comparison with anything if 1 half of the equation is unknown. Of course once we get there, the actual energy drawn will be from a higher % of renewable power…as we are committed to that already.

              I would also add in that a lot of TOCs nowadays are training their drivers on ” defensive driving techniques “.

            • Hi Gary,

              As I understand things the shinkansen is more efficient partly by very careful design (lightweight, aerodynamics, etc) but also by the means of packing more seats inside with a wider body width than possible in Europe – TGV and ICE trains seem to consume about double the energy of this. Maybe this does not matter because as you say we don’t know what we would get, but the point being made in the original article is that the cost-benefit of ultra-high speeds is not as attractive as originally being made out – my own opinion (for what it is worth) is that should it get built that HS2 will never run faster than 300 kph either.

              On a related note you might be able to comment on how our observations (shinkansen = pendolino, TGV = 2x shinkansen), square with figure 1.2 in the consultation document (or repeated on one of the factsheets) which only chooses to show eurostar at about 25 gCO2/passenger mile but intercity rail is three times that, rather than half! This same graph also implies that the average car uses 325 gCO2/mile (= 200 gCO2/km for comparison with the more commonly reported figures for cars.) Maybe the same statistics that has the average train user earning £70k means they must drive around in big cars, rather than the 100-140 gCO2/km that is typical for new cars (and this includes typical rep-mobiles)?

            • Apparently, European safety regulations are stricter, which means that European trains are heavier and use more power to get the same speeds. So we couldn’t get the Shinkasen performance anyway.

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