China is now the proud possessor of the world's longest high-speed railway network, with a combined track length of 7,531 kilometers, where trains could soon thunder along at close to 600 kilometers per hour, the Ministry of Railways and train manufacturers said Tuesday.
The latest Chinese high-speed record was set Friday by a CRH-380A train, which reached a national record of 486.1 km per hour, during a test run on the Beijing-Shanghai railway route.
The country's manufacturers seem positive that their trains will soon snap at the heels of the 574.8 km per hour world speed record set by France in 2007, an anonymous source with CSR Corporation, formerly known as the China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Corporation, told the Xinhua News Agency Tuesday, during the seventh World Congress on High Speed Rail held in Beijing.
The event, co-hosted by the Ministry of Railways and the International Union of Railways (UIC), was organized by the China Academy of Railway Sciences, and is being held outside Europe for the first time. The congress started Tuesday and will run until Thursday.
Liu Zhijun, the Chinese Railways Minister, addressed the event and announced China's 7,531 km track length, while adding that the nation's high-speed railways have been operating well, with reliable equipment and a good safety record.
In November, Liu declared that the eastern and central areas of the country have known an "era of high-speed railway," which will spread to western regions in the next five years, according to a national development blueprint, the People's Daily website reported.
"You have one of the fastest and smoothest trains in the world right now," Rod Diridon of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, told the Global Times Tuesday.
US admiration for Chinese rail was also expressed when Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, expressed his interest in China's high-speed railway expertise during his visit in September.
"You were able to build the system rapidly, you have good experience in operations, so you will be a formidable bidder," Diridon said, adding that California would open a worldwide bidding process for its high-speed rail construction plans.
This came as it was revealed Tuesday that CSR Corporation and the US' General Electric (GE) would sign a framework agreement allowing the two giants to collaborate on expanding high-speed railway networks in the US. Set to create 250 jobs in the US by 2012, the $50 million investment would first focus on railway projects in Florida and California, according to Xinhua. This is part of a raft of investments worth $2 billion that GE has negotiated with Chinese partners, as part of what GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt called his company's "long-term commitment to China."
Diridon added that the lack of federal or state-level investment into rail infrastructure in the US gave China a good chance to win bids in the country. President Barack Obama had made a clarion call last year for the US to renovate its aging rail network, but it has slipped down the list of priorities, allowing foreign bidders to gain access to this lucrative market.
Japanese train makers, which are China's major competitor in the US bids, pointed safety as their main concern.
"I know that China is very advanced in high-speed rail, but you should never sacrifice speed for safety," Haruo Hirata, deputy general-manager of Technical Research and Development Department of West Japan Railway Company, told the Global Times Tuesday.
"Safety is the major concern of all railway operators. It is true that, so far, all high-speed railway operators have developed their programs in complete safety and with no casualties. But you must always remain very cautious," Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, general director of the International Union of Railways, told the Global Times.
Sun Zhang, a professor with the Urban Rail and Railway Engineering Department of Shanghai's Tongji University, told the Global Times that China spent six or seven years developing and upgrad-ing high-speed railway technology imported from abroad. The country also made breakthroughs independently in many areas such as increasing cruising speed and enlarging carriage space.
"China's railway industry produced this new generation of high-speed train sets by learning and systematically compiling and re-innovating foreign high-speed train technology," the Railways Ministry said in November, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Therefore, Sun said, China's railway technologies have emerged from its own intellectual property rights, which shall not bother China's exports of its expertise, he said.
With concerns rising domestically over passenger numbers and travel costs, Sun suggested the government could subsidize the high-speed railway network to make it more affordable to ordinary passengers, particularly in peak traveling seasons such as the Chinese Lunar New Year.