China spearheads research into the next generation of super fast trains

Konstantin Sheiko
March 5, 2018

Twenty years ago when people talked about high-speed rail networks and bullet trains, it was the image of Japan that came to our minds. World's first bullet train made in Japan has turned 54 this year. On December 21, 1964, Japan's Shinkansen, a high speed train left Tokyo station on its first trip.    

Currently China is developing new bullet trains with a speed up to 400 kmph, besides researching on the next generation magnetic-levitation train with a top speed of 600 kmph. The technical plan for that train was reviewed by 19 academicians and experts. After queries and discussions, the reviewing team affirmed the plan and unanimously approved it. The project is one of eighteen national key research and development plans set by the Ministry of Science and Technology. According to Ding Rongjun, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, 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. 

As a new and cutting-edge transit technology, high-speed magnetic levitation railway has attracted huge attention worldwide. Japan's superconducting magnetic levitation train reached a top test speed of 603 kmph, and the German-designed vehicle can hit 505 kmph. The operating speed of the maglev trains in Shanghai, which use German technology, is 430 kmph at the moment. China is also focusing on how to link TV signals to trains so that passengers will be able to enjoy films on window-turned screens.    

Maximum speed of China's bullet trains has increased again to 350 kmph, with a maximum speed of 400 km/h (248 mph), when seven pairs of bullet trains called the Fuxing (Rejuvenation) 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. It is reported that the rejuvenated train service boasts a monitoring system that will automatically slow the trains in case of emergency.   

Taking the next step toward high-tech future, the China Aerospace Science and Industry Cooperation (CASIC) technology company has announced it has begun research on a next-generation maglev train that could reach a theoretical top speed of 4,000 kilometers per hour, thereby cutting travel time between Shanghai and Beijing from the current 4.5 hours to just 15 minutes. The company made the astounding announcement in September 2017, releasing a proof-of-concept video in which passenger capsules equipped with cutting-edge maglev technology travel inside vacuum tubes in order to reduce friction.    

CASIC deputy general manager Liu Shiquan described the development of the new technology as being in separate stages, first making trains that can achieve a maximum speed of 1,000 kilometers per hour, then 2,000 kilometers per hour, and eventually 4,000. China Daily reports that CASIC has already reached the first stage of development. Called “T-Flight”, the prototype is less like a traditional train and more like a “bullet” propelled along the length of its journey by magnet levitation technology. The company even provided some details, notably that the passenger capsule is 35.8 meters long, 2.24 meters high and 2.12 meters wide. The capsule is not linked like a train to other capsules, and appears to hold maybe two dozen passengers at most.   

China has laid more than 12,400 miles of high-speed rail to date, with the intention of adding another 6,000 miles by 2020. According to the Associated Press, the country has spent $360 billion building the network of high-speed rail, and it is currently in the process of creating the largest in the world. At the same time, China is building a 12 kilometre long tunnel underneath the Great Wall of China while also actively considering building a 2,300 kilometre long high-speed rail route to the European Union that stretches through the entirety of Russia.