China Primers - Trains

The Evolution of China’s High Speed Rail Network

On August 1, 2008, China opened its first true high speed railway, the 120 km long Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Railway. By the end of 2019, around 11 years later, the operating mileage of China’s railways will reach more than 139,000 kilometers, of which 35,000 kilometers are high-speed rail, making it the largest rail network, and largest high speed rail network in the world.

What is High Speed Rail (HSR)? The National Railway Administration of China has defined China’s high-speed railway as a passenger-dedicated railway designed to operate at speeds of 250 kilometers per hour or more. Included in that high-speed railway classification are lines that operate at 200 km/h that are capable of 250 km/h.

As new advancements in rail technology are implemented, Chinese railways are likely to be divided into high-speed railways (250-380), fast-speed railways (160-250), and ordinary-speed railways (80-160).

As a rail passenger, when buying tickets for China’s modern high speed trains you will come across these classifications

  • C-Class – (Chengji 城际) are intercity trains operating on high-speed track usually at or below 200km/h
  • D-Class – (Dongche 动车) is the second-fastest high speed train usually running at speeds from 200km/h to 250 km/h
  • G train (Gaotie 高铁) is the fastest passenger train in China and generally run long distances with top speeds of 250-350km/h

The fastest operating line currently is the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail which on September 21, 2017, with the introduction of the Fuxing model trains, raised the operating speed to 350 km/h reducing Beijing-Shanghai’s journey time to 4h 28m for the 1,318 km journey (with two stops).

The Transformation of China’s Rail Network

In 1978, Deng Xiaoping (then leader) visited Japan and took a high-speed train on the Shinkansen railway. It was at this point that high-speed railway officially entered the Chinese public vision. A time when China’s total population reached 1.1 billion supported by only 5,300 kilometers of railways shared between cargo and passenger trains.

Dongfeng diesel locomotive

Throughout the 80s and 90s, China’s passenger transport system remained overloaded and slow, while elsewhere through Europe and Japan, fast trains capable of commercial operation of 200 km/h were coming online.

In 1993, commercial train service in China averaged only 48 km/h (30 mph) with few lines reaching 120 km/h. But not for long, since the time of Deng’s visit to Japan, a lot of debate and research had gone into solving China’s rail woes and a realization of the importance of connecting regions for numerous social and economic benefits was promoted.

Through various “speed up” campaigns, in 1994 they had reached the classification of “fast rail” with 160 km/h diesel locomotives on the Guangzhou-Shenzhen Railway.

Concurrently, through the ’90s investigation into high speed rail was taking place, inspired by Japan and its Shinkansen trains with an eye to linking Beijing and Shanghai. It should be said, there was reportedly also opposition to high speed rail, as many viewed it as costly and with little evidence of profitability demonstrated elsewhere in the world. Regardless, high speed rail entered into state planning.

The Guangzhou-Shenzhen Railway line was chosen to be a testbed and in 1996, China and South Korea jointly developed high-speed trains and conducted tests on the Guangzhou-Shenzhen Railway line.

In 1998, the Guangzhou-Shenzhen Railway line was electrified and Swedish-made X 2000 trains were introduced raising the line speed to 200 km/h making it China’s first, fast-speed rail line and nearing the target for classification of high speed rail.

90s Swedish X2000 on the Guangzhou Shenzhen Railway

In the planning of China’s high speed rail system, Maglev technology was also a hot topic of debate. Although conventional rail won out, the Shanghai Maglev experiment was completed in April 2004. It is the fastest rail line in the world at 431 km/h yet it does not connect into, nor is it classified as part of China’s HSR network and only connects Shanghai Pudong International Airport to Longyang Road Station, a total distance of 30 km.

Continuing with conventional rail development and post the Guangzhou-Shenzhen Railway line experiment, the first dedicated high speed rail line was constructed connecting Qinhuangdao in Hebei province to Shenyang in Liaoning province. The Qinhuangdao-Shenyang passenger railway is 404km long and opened in 2003 operating at 200 km/h. It was increased to 250 km/h capable in 2007. Originally it was serviced by the locally made China Star EMU which set a record speed in testing of 321 km/h yet in commercial operation was limited to 160 km/h and was later replaced by CRH trains (see ‘high speed train development’ towards the end of page).

Shortly after that in 2008, the first 300km/h + high-speed railway line came online with the opening of the Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Railway. It was designed to be 380 km/h capable and operates at 350 km/h. It is hailed as China’s first true HSR line. The first trains used on this line were the newly developed CRH2 EMU.

In 2009, the second true high-speed railway opened being the Wuhan-Guangzhou high-speed railway. It was also a 380 km/h capable line.

On October 26, 2010, the Shanghai-Hangzhou high-speed railway section of the Shanghai-Kunming high-speed railway was officially opened for operation. This is another high-speed railway with a design speed of 350 km /h, which was opened in 2010 after the Zhengxi Passenger Dedicated Line and Shanghai-Nanjing Intercity.

By this time in 2010, the operating mileage of China’s high-speed railways has reached 7,431 kilometers.

On November 15, 2010, the entire Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway was opened. The line runs through 7 provinces and cities such as Beijing, Shandong, and Shanghai. The line is 1,318 kilometers long, with an operating speed of 350km/h and the capability of 380km/h.

CRH2C used on the Wuhan-Guangzhou line and Beijing-Tianjin line

These rail lines were major milestones on the development of China’s high speed rail network post which a development boom began. A plan for a 4+4 national HSR grid having four vertical lines and four horizontal lines connecting the major regions of the nation was released.

The 4+4 national HSR grid was largely completed by the end of 2015 and now serves as the backbone of China’s HSR network.

In July 2016, the state planners re-organized the national HSR network (including HSR lines in operation, under construction and under planning) into the 8 + 8 HSR Network being eight vertical and eight horizontal HSR “passageways”, almost doubling the network.

The Eight Verticals

  1. Dandong-Guangxi Coastal passageway (沿海通道)
  2. Beijing–Shanghai passageway (京沪通道)
  3. Beijing–Hong Kong passageway (京港)
  4. Harbin–Hong Kong (Macau) Passageway (京哈~京港澳通道)
  5. Hohhot–Nanning passageway (呼南通道)
  6. Beijing–Kunming passageway (京昆通道)
  7. Baotou (Yinchuan)–Hainan passageway (包(银)海通道)
  8. Lanzhou (Xining)–Guangzhou passageway (兰(西)广通道)

The Eight Horizontals

  1. Suifenhe–Manzhouli passageway (绥满通道)
  2. Beijing–Lanzhou passageway (京兰通道)
  3. Qingdao–Yinchuan passageway (青银通道)
  4. Eurasia Continental Bridge passageway (陆桥通道)
  5. Yangtze River passageway (沿江通道)
  6. Shanghai–Kunming passageway (沪昆通道)
  7. Xiamen–Chongqing passageway (厦渝通道)
  8. Guangzhou–Kunming passageway (广昆通道)

According to the tasks identified in the “Medium- and Long-Term Railway Network Planning (中长期铁路网规划)”, by 2020, the modernization of China’s railways will be basically completed. Passenger dedicated lines will reach more than 15,000 kilometers. All provincial capitals and large and medium-sized cities have rapid passenger railways. Bohai Rim, The Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta regions will form an inter-city rapid passenger transport network.

Important lines of China’s HSR Network

Wuhan-Guangzhou Passenger Dedicated Line
Wuhan-Guangzhou Passenger Dedicated Line is the southern section of Wuhan-Guangzhou Passenger Dedicated Line (Wuhan-Guangzhou Section), located in Hubei, Hunan and Guangdong, with a total length of 1068.8 kilometers. The total investment is 116.6 billion yuan with operation beginning on 26th December 2009. The maximum operating speed is 394 km/h, and Wuhan to Guangzhou can be reached within 3 hours. The travel time from Wuhan to Guangzhou has been shortened from about 11 hours to about 3 hours, and direct travel from Changsha to Guangzhou takes only 2 hours.

Beijing-Shanghai Passenger Dedicated Line
Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway is one of the original “four vertical and four horizontal ” passenger dedicated lines in China. The line runs from Beijing South Railway Station to Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station with a total length of 1,318 kilometers. It runs through the three municipalities directly under the Central Government of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and the four provinces of Hebei, Anhui, and Jiangsu, and connects the two economic zones around the Bohai Rim and the Yangtze River Delta. The total investment is about 220.9 billion yuan. It opened to traffic on June 30, 2011.

Beijing-Hong Kong-Taiwan High Speed ​​Rail (proposed)
The Beijing-Hong Kong-Taiwan high-speed rail is a national trunk high-speed rail that passes through the “Millennium Plan” Xiong’an New District. It will run in a north–south direction from Beijing to Hong Kong, with a branch leading from Hefei to end at Taipei across the Taiwan Strait. It will connect the cities of Beijing, Xiong’an, Fuyang, Hefei, Jiujiang, Nanchang, Ganzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong on the main line, as well as Fuzhou and Taipei on the branch line.

Beijing-Guangzhou Passenger Line 
Connecting Beijing, Hebei, Henan, Hubei, Hunan and Guangdong provinces with a length of 2298 km.  The design speed of the whole line is 350 km / h, and the current running speed is reduced to 310 km/h. This high-speed railway passenger dedicated line is one of China’s “four vertical and four horizontal” passenger dedicated network, forming a high-speed passenger corridor that runs parallel to the Beijing-Guangzhou railway, runs through the north and south of China. The Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed railway will enable passenger-cargo separation of the Beijing-Guangzhou railway. The Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed rail line opened for operation on December 26, 2012.

Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Passenger Dedicated Line
The Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong High Speed ​​Railway is a high-speed railway that connects two major cities of Guangdong province to Hong Kong. In total it is 143 km in length and was opened on 23 September 2018. It is a 350 km/h capable line.

Harbin-Dalian Passenger Dedicated Line
The Harbin-Dalian HSR is a key project of the national “11th Five-Year Plan” and an important part of the Beijing-Kazakhstan Passenger Dedicated Line, and one of the “Four-vertical and Four-horizontal”. It officially opened for operation on December 1, 2012. Currently, it starts from Harbin in Heilongjiang Province in the north and Dalian in Liaoning Province in the south. The line is the world’s first alpine high-speed railway operating at high latitudes and low temperatures in winter. The project cost 95 billion Yuan.

Southeast Coastal Passenger Dedicated Line
The line departs from Hangzhou East Railway Station, goes south along the southeast coastline of China, passes through Ningbo, Taizhou, Wenzhou, Fuzhou, Xiamen and other places, and arrives at Shenzhen North Railway Station, with a total length of about 1,450 kilometers. The line can also be transferred from Shanghai East Railway Station to Shanghai-Kunming Passenger Dedicated Line (Shanghai-Hangzhou Section) to Shanghai. On December 28, 2013, the Southeast Coastal Passenger Dedicated Line was fully opened.

Qingtai Passenger Dedicated Line
The Qinghai-Taiyun Passenger Dedicated Line refers to the existing Qingdao-Taiyuan Railway, and the four cities of Economic South, Dezhou, Hengshui, and Shijiazhuang. It consists of the Jiaoji, Shide, Shitai, and Beijing-Shanghai Railway sections, and is an important part of the South Coal Transport Channel. It is also an important channel for foreign transport in Shanxi Province. The special line is about 770 kilometers long. The speed target is above 200 km/h, and the electric trains and trains are automatically controlled.

Xulan Passenger Dedicated Line
The Xuzhou-Lanzhou High-speed Railway is an important part of China’s medium and long-term railway planning. It consists of the Zhengxu Passenger Dedicated Line, the Zhengxi Passenger Dedicated Line, the Xibao Passenger Dedicated Line, and the Baolan Passenger Dedicated Line. From Xuzhou to Shangqiu, Kaifeng, Zhengzhou, Luoyang, Xi’an, Baoji to Lanzhou, the total length is about 1,400 kilometers, and the line direction is generally parallel to the existing Longhai Railway.

The Zhengxu Passenger Dedicated Line runs from Zhengzhou East Station in the west to Xuzhou East Station in the east, with a total length of 361.9 kilometers, including 252.8 kilometers in Henan Province, 73.4 kilometers in Anhui Province, and 35.6 kilometers in Jiangsu Province. The total estimated investment for the line is 48.62 billion yuan. The design speed is 350 km/h.

The Zhengxi Passenger Dedicated Line is 484.518 kilometers long and the designed speed is 350km/h. Its estimated total investment was 54.668 billion yuan.

The Xibao Passenger Dedicated Line starts from the Zhengxi Passenger Dedicated Xi’an North Passenger Station of the Xi’an Railway Junction in the east, passes Xianyang, Yangling, Caijiapo to the west to Baoji, with a total length of 138.107 kilometers. A total investment of 17.97 billion yuan.

The Baolan Passenger Dedicated Line connects Baoji to Lanzhou with a total length of 401 kilometers, including 355 kilometers in Gansu and 46 kilometers in Shaanxi. The total estimated investment is 64.69 billion yuan.

Shanghai–Wuhan–Chengdu passenger railway
Known as the Hu-Han-Rong Passenger Dedicated Line, it departs from Shanghai, passes through Nanjing, Hefei, Wuhan, Chongqing and other cities and reaches Chengdu. Design speed is 200 ~ 350 km / h (some sections 160 km / h). It is one of the four east–west high-speed rail corridors and was completed and opened in 2013.

Shanghai-Kunming Passenger Dedicated Line
The Shanghai-Kunming Passenger Dedicated Line is one of the “Four Vertical and Four Horizontal” fast passenger corridors. It passes through six provincial capitals and municipalities, including Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanchang, Changsha, Guiyang, and Kunming. At 2264 kilometers, it is the longest east-west line in China. It consists of three sections: Shanghai-Hangzhou Passenger Dedicated Line, Hangzhou-Changzhou Passenger Dedicated Line and Chang-Kun Passenger Dedicated Line. The Shanghai-Kunming high-speed railway is an east-west railway aorta that runs from Shanghai in the east to Kunming in the west and has a designed speed of 250-350 km/h. The total investment of more than 300 billion yuan.

Tianjin-Qinhuangdao Passenger Dedicated Line
The main line of the Tianjin-Qinhuangdao Passenger Dedicated Line is 261 kilometers long with a design speed of 350km/h. Tianjin, Junliangcheng North, Binhai, Binhai North, Tangshan, Luohe , Beidaihe and Qinhuangdao. It opened 1st Dec, 2013.

Xicheng Passenger Dedicated Line
Xicheng HSR has a total length of 643 kilometers leads from Xi’an North Station and goes southwest via Hanzhong, Guangyuan, Mianyang, and Deyang to Chengdu East Station. The design speed is 250km/h.

Yungui Passenger Dedicated Line
The Yunnan-Guizhou Railway starts at Kunming South New Passenger Station and runs east through Honghe, Wenshan, Baise to Nanning Station. The total length is 710 kilometers. The total investment is 89.92 billion yuan.

Guiguang Passenger Dedicated Line
The Guizhou-Guangzhou High-speed Railway (Guiyang-Guangzhou) links Guiyang City, Guizhou Province, and Guangzhou City, Guangdong Province. Opened: December 26, 2014. A total length of 857 kilometers, 207.5 kilometers in Guangdong, 348.5 kilometers in Guangxi, and 301 kilometers in Guizhou. The project investment was 85.8 bn Yuan.

High Speed Train development

CRH is China Railway High-speed, there are several models CRH1 – CRH5. These models have introduced advanced technology from Japan, Germany, France, and other countries, which has been digested, absorbed and localized.

For a detailed breakdown of all the Harmony and Fuxing models see the next post on Chinese EMU’s.


Harmony (Hexie) EMU specific models

  • CRH1 (CRH1A, CRH1B, CRH1E) = Bombardier Regina
  • CRH2 (CRH2A, CRH2B, CRH2C , CRH2E, CRH2H) = Kawasaki E2 Series Shinkansen
  • CRH3 (CRH3C) = Siemens ICE3/Velaro
  • CRH5 (CRH5A, CRH5G) = Alstom New Pendolino
  • CRH380A (CRH380A, CRH380AL) = local by CSR Corporation
  • CRH380B (CRH380B, CRH380BL)  = Hitachi
  • CRH380C (CRH380CL) = Siemens
  • CRH380D = Bombardier
  • CRH6

CR Series Fuxing EMU

Fuxing CR400

Also known as Chinese Standard EMU (Electric Multiple Unit), it is China’s new locally developed high speed train. The introduced CRH was improved, mixed with European and Japanese standards, and produced with Chinese characteristics (according to Chinese literature on the topic).

It is promoted to be more advanced than the European and Japanese standards on EMU technology.

CR models are divided into three basic types of 400, 300, and 200 relating to their top speed capability suited to meet different market needs.