Race is on for high-speed rail

09:14, December 15, 2010      

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Proprietary technology, experience and vast market help China challenge global leaders

Using its proprietary technologies, China has joined the ranks of the powerhouse elite in high-speed trains, a select list that includes France, Germany and Japan.

With up to 30,000 kilometers of high-speed railways expected to be built around the globe by 2020, China recently burnished its chances for a share of the market when it set a world record of 486.1 kilometers an hour in a test run on the new Beijing-Shanghai line on Nov 3.

The 1,300-kilometer line is expected to begin full operations in October next year with five times the current passenger capacity. It will shorten the travel time to less than five hours.

International plans already in the works include a high-speed line in neighboring Laos and Thailand and a joint venture with industrial giant General Electric Co (GE) for production in the United States.

At the World High Speed Rail Congress from Dec 7 to 9 in Beijing, GE signed an agreement with China's largest railcar maker China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Corp Ltd (CSR) to establish a 50-50 partnership in the US.

CSR will transfer its rail carriage technology to the joint venture, which is set to become the first US maker of high-speed trains. It plans to build lines in Florida and California, the International Financial Times quoted John Rice, vice board chairman of GE, saying.

Since 2003, China has signed agreements or memoranda of understanding for standard-speed rail lines in more than 30 countries, including the US, Russia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Poland and India, according to Xinhua news agency.

"After absorbing imported technologies, domestic train makers have made new innovations," the Financial Times cited Professor Song Songxing from Nanjing University's business school saying.

After building more than 7,500 kilometers of high-speed lines, China's rail sector now has some of the world's most extensive expertise in construction and operation, Song said, adding that the lower prices are another factor in overseas appeal.

At the Beijing rail congress, China's Vice-Premier Zhang Dejiang said the sector will be listed as a priority for development in the upcoming 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), noting that policies in finance and land use will favor the industry.

An annual 700 billion yuan ($105 billion) investment is expected to go into construction of high-speed railways in the next five years, China Business News reports.

Rich tech portfolio

"Without innovation, we cannot achieve world records in construction," said Wang Yuze, chief of engineering on the Beijing-Shanghai project, to China Intellectual Property News.

Construction on the project began in April, 2008 and has been completed in more than two years.

Another benchmark is the 9.27 kilometer Dashengguan rail bridge over the Yangtze River in Nanjing that has three pairs of rails - one for the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed line, one for the Shanghai-Wuhan-Chengdu railway and the other for local transport.

Some 84,000 tons of steel went into the bridge, two times that needed for construction of the National Stadium in Beijing, more widely known as the Bird's Nest.

To meet the bridge's specialized demands, China Railway Group and Wuhan Iron and Steel (Group) jointly developed a new type of steel, which has moved to patent.

The railway group also cooperated with Yanshan University to create a new welding method and also filed a patent application for that.

Another feature of high-speed railways is that they require computer-controlled operation.

A Chinese-invented computer system provides automation and offers redundant layers of safety.

The Beijing-Shanghai line made other technological breakthroughs in rail construction, data processing, dynamics control and high-speed train development.

The Ministry of Railways and the State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) signed a strategic cooperation agreement to establish a proprietary intellectual property system for the rail industry in 2008. To date, the sector has been granted more than 900 patents and 150 trademarks.

Widespread network

A 2,240 kilometer Beijing-Hong Kong high-speed railway is now under construction. When it begins operation in 2012, overland travel time between the two cities will be reduced to 10 hours.

The nation's development plan calls for more than 16,000 kilometers of high-speed railways to be built across the country by 2020 linking all provincial capitals as well as other cities with more than 500,000 people.

Its is expected to benefit some 90 percent of the country's population.

China's boom in high-speed rail has also attracted another kind of attention from overseas - international companies that see the enormous potential of the market. They are now increasing their patent applications in China.

Patent filings from abroad for locomotive designs alone have reached nearly 100.

At the same time, Chinese companies should learn from their overseas peers and apply for patents to facilitate their overseas ventures, experts suggest.

Data shows that China-made locomotives, high-speed trains and their components are used in more than 50 countries and regions, according to China Intellectual Property News.

While China's high-speed rail and train technologies are widely recognized as cutting-edge, some still claim that they are copycat designs.

SIPO Commissioner Tian Lipu said at a mayor's forum on intellectual property and urban development in late December that with innovations in abundance, China's high-speed rail technologies are "proprietary".

"The allegations proved groundless," he said. "Our high-speed rail technologies are the result of China's own innovation."

Source:China Daily
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