Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Sunday, January 18, 2004
Rail track beats Maglev in Beijing-Shanghai High Speed Railway
The construction plan of the Beijing-Shanghai High Speed Railway has finally been determined at 2004 beginning after five years' hot debate on whether to use rail track or the magnetic levitation (maglev) technology.
The construction plan of the Beijing-Shanghai High Speed Railway has finally been determined at 2004 beginning after five years' hot debate on whether to use rail track or the magnetic levitation (maglev) technology. At a January 7 regular meeting of the State Council chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao, attendees discussed and passed in principle the nation's "medium-and-long term plan of railway network". Informed sources say though maglev supporters remain the meeting accepted experts' suggestion to use rail-and-track, and it only remains to see who, among Japan's New Trunk Line, Germany's Siemens and France's Alston, will win the bid.
rail track won at long last
China's railway network plan passed this time eyes a high-speed railway network woven by four north-south lines and four west-east lines, with the Beijing-Shanghai railway placed at the top.
There have been many versions of the rail and maglev dispute, but an end has been put on them by the passage of the medium-and-long term plan, though working staff from the long-term plan department of the Ministry of Railway refused to comment.
Good reason to give up maglev
The abandon of maglev also bring long-term market prospects to high-speed railway of China's own property right. An article carried on the website of the Ministry of Railway described its staff members as "filled with elation by and responded warmly to the passage of the nation's medium-and-long-term plan of railway network".
This is indeed the end of decade-old feasibility studies. The project was originally suggested by China Communication and Transportation Association and China Railway Association in 1995. Then a panel of experts was set up by related departments to discuss the major economic and technological questions in early-stage construction. Finally the Ministry of Railway produced a suggestion report for state approval in 1998. When state-appointed experts were assessing the report, academician He Zuoxiu proposed the maglev alternative. After that the dispute between rail track and maglev never ceased, until last September a majority of experts signed to support rail track in the last feasibility discussion.
Deputy director of China Communication and Transportation Association Wang Derong, who has been in the discussion from the very beginning, told reporter that they gave up the maglve plan because it is incompatible with China's existing rail-and-track technology, and therefore it's unable to form a network since the Beijing-Shanghai railway is expected to be linked with another 20-odd trunk lines. There will be, besides, many problems of interchange, for they cannot be managed on a same platform. What's more, the cost of maglev-around 300 to 400 million yuan per kilometer, or two times that of rail track-is too high.
Germany, French and Japan fighting for the bid
The 120 billion yuan investment for the Beijing-Shanghai railway poses a great attraction to Germany, France and Japan, three countries who master high-speed railway technologies, and they have good reasons to fight for it with all their might. The project has entered a final stage of feasibility discussion, Wang revealed, and the rest is to decide to use whose technology and how to raise fund through various channels.
Premier Wen told visiting German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on December 1 last year that in constructing the Beijing-Shanghai railway China would introduce world-class technologies through public bidding, Wang said.
Presently the three countries are equally able in the four core technologies as breaking system, power system, carriage, and automatic control. Franc's TGV technology, Germany's ICE technology and Japan's New Trunk Line all bring a speed of 300 kilometers per hour, a speed China requested. France is more advanced in control techniques and Germany in the transmission part. While Japan has mature operation experiences and management, and it's power dispersion technology, which ensures zero power waste, represents the trend of high-speed railway development. In fact the final decision lies in two points only: price and technology transfer, the latter being the foremost factor from a long-term view of China's high-speed railway development.
As a matter of fact, the three countries began to peddle their technology as early as from last year. In September 2003, German President Johannes Rau visited China to market his country's technology, and took a trip by Shanghai's maglev line. He stressed repeatedly that Germany has not only maglev but also rail and track. In December, Germany's BWG, Pfleiderer and Siemens announced in Guangzhou they will set up in the city a "Promotion Organization of Germany High-Speed", and cooperate with the local railway group to establish a center there to provide technological support and know-hows to China's state-owned and local railway operators.
At China's 5th international modern railway equipment exhibition in last June, France's Alstom said it is more than a dozen years since it cast its eye on the Beijing-Shanghai line, and the company has transferred technology in this regard to Spain and South Korea.
Whereas Japan has always been conservative in technology transfer, Wang said frankly. Besides, the country met strong opposition from public opinion when promoting its New Trunk Line in China.
Political consideration is also an important factor in a state's decision-making, as well as the most uncertain one, a related Chinese official said. As Wang put it, political factors, though not absolute ones, can never be ruled out.