Country one of world’s largest investors in high-speed rail but projects are increasingly overshadowed by pollution
China is unveiling its latest prototype train on Thursday – a 620-kph (390-mph) magnetic levitation vehicle the country’s railway ministry claims is the fastest in the world.
The trackless trains, which can travel between Beijing and Tianjin at speeds of 300 km per hour (190mph), will be used only within China.
China has been one of the world’s largest investors in high-speed rail, along with the US and Russia, since former leader President Hu Jintao made the sector a priority in 2007.
China’s railways minister, Li Zhanshu, said last month that the country could roll out maglev systems for one-third of the length of the inter-city railway system by the end of the decade.
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Beijing is planning a network of new metro lines in the coming years, which will require high-speed rail to be part of its route.
But China’s ambitious build-out has come under fire from environmentalists. The Central China Climate Observatory said in a recent report that while the high-speed rail and airports sectors were far more polluting than previously thought, other sectors including the car, trucks and aviation remained largely clean.
China’s first maglev was built in 2011 and powered by the University of Beijing. Its technology is unlikely to reach the speed of the United States’ high-speed bullet trains: it was originally expected to reach 800 km per hour before that train was shut down in 2018 following an accident.
Last month China suspended high-speed rail operations between Beijing and Shanghai and for a month in the north-east city of Harbin after a derailment during heavy rain left 28 dead and was the latest in a string of similar accidents that have drawn public anger and concerns over lax safety standards.
But China’s high-speed rail operation has continued despite the incident and the internet this week was awash with questions about why a high-speed train was able to pass an avalanche while other trains were hit by powerful snowdrifts.
The government promised to improve safety earlier this year, launching a crash-proof safety program for rail companies in November 2017 and mandating that all railway lines would need 10 years of comprehensive safety audits before it issued a certificate for high-speed rail operations.