trainspotters had double cause for celebration last week. Not only was
it the Chinese new year but 15 bullet trains were put into service for
the first time to cope with the 70m people expected to travel by train
over the holiday period.
The trains are running on some nation's key routes, including
Beijing to Shanghai, and Shanghai to Guangzhou, but they are only
running at 160kph during the trial period. In April they will be
cranked up to run at 250kph.
By 2020, the bullet trains will steam along 130,000km of track – just over a third of the nation's rail network.
Amid the hype surrounding the new trains, which are presented as yet
another example of China's growing technology prowess, the authorities
play down the foreign roots of the high-speed trains.
While China claims it has mastered the technology
needed to operate high-speed trains, the bullet trains going into
service have largely built abroad, the fruits of technology transfer
agreements with Japan's Mitsubishi, Canada's Bombardier, German giant
Siemens and Alstom of France
The first bullet trains to run are lightly modified versions of Japan's famous Shinkansen bullet train, according to the Financial Times.
Trade relations between the two countries are soured by decades of
distrust and deep-seated war memories. So, when the Japanese deal was
announced, back in 2004, it led to internet protests and street
demonstrations, and an initial batch of trains exported from Japan was
shipped without the customary public ceremony.
China's official Xinhua news agency did not mention Japan in its
coverage of the introduction of the Japan-designed trains earlier this
month, and to avoid reopening old wounds, the trains are rebranded as
CRH — China Railways Highspeed.
Japanese companies have generally been wary of giving core
technologies to Chinese partners but the rail ministry has made such
transfers a condition of any purchase of overseas trains.
The first Alstom train, a model made in Italy, will start running in
China in April. The French company will eventually deliver a total of
60 trains to China in a contract worth €620m.
Back in 2005, Siemens won a contract to supply 60 high-speed trains to China and put the value of the deal at $824m