Wuhan-Guangzhou Express: HSR on a Truly Grand Scale

By Bill Moore

Posted: 28 Dec 2009

The Wuhan High-Speed Rail (HSR) station built some 14 km outside of the city boasts 20 rail lines and 11 passenger platforms. As the above photo, courtesy of Flickr poster ANR2008 illustrates, the newly opened Harmony express that links Gaungzhou some 968 km to the south, represents the state-of-the-art in HSR. The Wuhan terminal alone cost 14 billion Yuan (US$2.4 billion), while the Gaungzhou station has nearly seventy percent more steel in it than the Olympic "Birdnest" in Beijing.

Seventy percent of the line is elevated or passes through tunnels to deal with the rugged terrain along the route, which also enables it to make the trip in under 3 hours at an average speed of 328 km/h (203 mi/h), about 83% of its maximum possible top speed of 395 km/h. It previously took more than 10 hours on the old train line.

As impressive as the Wuhan-Guangzhou line is, it's only one of many under-construction . The new line between Beijing and Shanghai will see speeds of 220 mph, cutting the travel time in half to just four hours. These are just some of the planned 16,000 km (10,000 miles) of high-speed lines being built in China between now and 2020, projects that are estimated to cost US$300 billion. Last year alone, China spent US$44 billion on high-speed rail.

Now not all of these lines will be like the Wuhan-Guangzhou Harmony express or Beijing-Shanghai service. Thirty-five lines will be comparable to those in Europe operating at speeds of 125 mph. The scale of this national project is mind-boogling, requiring 117 million tons of concrete alone for the elevated buttresses atop which the track is laid. According to Opinone, the national rail service plans to hire 20,000 young engineers over the next twelve months. The ultimate goal is to link all of China's major cities by HSR with travel times under 8 hours.

Unlike the older train lines that service city centers, the new Wuhan and Guangzhou are located some 14 km outside of each city. The plan is to eventually link each with multiple subway line service. The Guangzhou station can handle 310,000 passengers a day, and once it is completed, it will be the fourth largest transportation hub in China; the terminal alone covering an area larger than Guangzhou Baiyun airport.

As might be expected, China's national airlines are introducing special reduced airfares to undercut the new service, a move that might be expected from American air carriers. But where those jets are dependent on petroleum, the trains are electric: the energy can come from multiple sources, though for the foreseeable future it will come from coal, someday to be supplanted by hydro, nuclear and renewables. Still, the economics of the system, which operates 56 trains a day, have yet to be proven, notes the Financial Times.

The photos below, as well as the 200+ images on Flickr, give a since of the scale and scope of this one project alone, which dwarfs anything contemplated in the United States. The table at the bottom shows the relative speeds and distances for other HSR lines around the world compared to the new Wuhan-Guangzhou line.

Wuhan, China HSR station costs equivalent of $2.4 billion
Wuhan, China HSR station costs equivalent of $2.4 billion.

Guangzhou HSR station covers more area than the cities airport and can handle more than 300,000 passengers a day.
Guangzhou HSR station covers more area than the city's airport and can handle more than 300,000 passengers a day.

Inaugural run of Harmony express, a Siemens truck-based train set capable of a top speed of 395 km/hr.
"Inaugural run of Harmony express, a Siemens truck-based train set capable of a top speed of 395 km/hr

Comparing Long-Distance High-Speed Rail Routes
Line Distance Travel Time Avg Speed
China: Wuhan-Guangzhou 968 km 2h57 328 km/h
Spain: Cordoba-Barcelona 966 km 4h42 206 km/h
France: Lille-Marseille 959 km 4h40 206 km/h
Italy: Turin-Naples 900 km 5h45 157 km/h
USA: Boston-Newport News 1034 km 12h35 82 km/h

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