With a design speed of 350 km/h, the Wuhan – Guangdong Railway PDL is the world's longest high speed line currently under construction, at nearly 1 000 km

HIGH IN THE mountains to the north of Guangzhou, civil engineering work is pressing ahead on the alignment for the longest of 11 high speed railways now under construction in China. Only 54 months have been allowed for completion of the 968 km Wuhan – Guangzhou Passenger Dedicated Line, despite the fact that 18% of the route will run in tunnel.

Preliminary construction began in June 2005, with tunnelling work starting in January 2006. The first regular trains are scheduled to start using the line on December 31 2009, following a six-month period of test running. To help speed up the commissioning process, a 40 km test section is to be finished in 2008.

The Passenger Dedicated Lines form an important element in Chinese Railways' expansion programme. They have two main objectives – to improve the quality and capacity of long-distance passenger services and to release much-needed capacity for freight trains on the existing network.

The need for a tight construction schedule is being driven by the rapid growth of the Chinese economy. This is putting considerable pressure on the railways, which are currently handling 50% of the country's freight transport and 35% of passenger movements. Expansion of the rail network is essential if the transport sector is not to become a bottleneck for economic development.

China's rail network may be the third longest in the world, but the country has a much lower length of railway per capita compared to countries such as the USA, Russia, Germany, France, Japan and even Brazil.

The Ministry of Railways' long-term development strategy, announced in 2004, envisages expansion of the main line network from 75 000 km in 2005 to 100 000 km in 2020, representing an investment averaging 120bn yuan per year. The detailed five-year plan launched in October 2006 envisages the network reaching 92 000 km by 2010, including the construction of more than 7 000 km of Passenger Dedicated Lines.

MOR estimates energy consumption per unit of transport is only one-sixth for rail compared to road. And as China is a net importer of oil, energy saving is essential. Further benefits will come from main line electrification, with 45% of China's railways due to be under the wires by 2010.

Railways are by far the most economic way of transporting goods over the long distances from the northern and western regions, where the major resources are found, to the areas of consumption and manufacturing in the east and south. In addition, lorries produce more than 10 times the level of pollutants per tonne transported than trains.

Rail is expected to remain the dominant mode in the medium and long-distance passenger market. With the average income very low by western standards, private cars are still a luxury, and rail is much cheaper than air.

Today CR's passenger services are heavily overloaded. Whereas the network is designed to accommodate an average of 2·4 million passengers per day, the actual loadings regularly exceed 3 million.

As a result of economic development, which requires more labour mobility, and increased competition from road for shorter journeys, the average distance travelled has increased from 150 km in 1980 to 524 km in 2005. With faster trains making long-distance travel more convenient, passenger volumes on the Beijing - Guangzhou line increased by more than 70% between 1996 and 2004, for example.

WuGuang Railway PDL

Parallelling the existing Beijing - Guangzhou line, the WuGuang Railway PDL between Wuhan and Guangzhou is the first Passenger Dedicated Line in China where the civil structures are being designed for 350 km/h, although the trains will initially run at 300 km/h.

The 968 km WuGuang PDL will connect the capital of Hubei province, astride the Yangtze River in the north, with the capital of Guangdong province in the Pearl River Delta. It will connect at Guangzhou with the planned high speed line to Shenzhen and Hong Kong, and at Wuhan with the east-west PDL linking Nanjing (and Shanghai) with Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. A further PDL will run north to Beijing in the future, creating a continuous high speed railway corridor from Hong Kong all the way to Beijing.

The WuGuang PDL is expected to cut the current fastest inter-city journey time between Wuhan and Guangzhou from 11 h to around 4 h. By comparison, the flight time between the two cities' airports is about 90 min, but the overall journey time easily exceeds 4 h when the trips to and from the airports and the check-in and waiting times are included.

The new line will serve 16 stations along the route, which are expected to have a significant impact in terms of promoting economic growth in their respective regions.

In engineering terms, the WuGuang PDL is seen as an outstanding reference project for high speed railway development in China. Nowhere in the world has such a long line been built as a single project.

The line will have 625 bridges with a combined length of 362 km, equivalent to no less than 39% of the total route. There will be 221 tunnels with a combined length of 163 km, which is 18% of the total. In order to reduce dynamic impact and maintenance, a ballastless trackform will be used for most of the line, based on Rail.One Pfleiderer's Rheda 2000 design (p484). The line will be electrified at 2 x 25 kV using autotransformer feeding, and will be operated using an ETCS-derived control system.

Construction management

The very short 54-month timescale for construction and testing of the line presents a significant logistical challenge in terms of raw materials (concrete, steel), machines (excavators, lorries, tunnel boring machines) and qualified manpower (engineers as well as workers). The technical design and construction programme management have been heavily influenced by consideration of the availability of resources and technology.

Wuhan–Guangzhou Railway Passenger Transportation Co Ltd has been established to build and operate the new line on behalf of MoR. Based in Wuhan, the company is a lean organisation with four project offices located along the line – in Wuhan, Changsha, Chenzhou and Guangzhou. It is responsible for managing the whole project with the support of consultants for the various technical aspects.

Two Chinese Railways Design & Survey Institutes have been appointed to undertake the design of the whole line, including the structures. Chinese contractors are responsible for the civil engineering works. Each contract section is between 25 and 40 km long, and the package deal covers bridges, tunnels, culverts, and earthworks right through to tracklaying. A separate contract will be let for the supply and installation of the telecommunications network, signalling, catenary and power supplies.

To enhance the quality of the design and the construction, and to ensure that international standards are adopted, MoR has invited a number of foreign companies with experience in high-speed railway projects to join the project. For example, these companies are assisting with design review, construction supervision and the development of the ballastless trackwork.

The foreign partners had to undergo a selection process and evaluation by MoR to become qualified to assist with Chinese railway projects. They were then permitted to participate in the project as members of various joint ventures, each of which is led by a Chinese company. The different sections of the work were assigned to the joint ventures through a further bidding procedure.

For the purposes of construction supervision, the whole line has been divided into four sections, with lengths ranging from 153 km to 336 km. Each section is primarily managed by one of the four WuGuang Railway PDL Co project offices. Companies from South Korea, Germany, France and the Netherlands are involved in construction supervision.

Section JL4

As an example of this work, a joint venture of five Chinese companies plus Arcadis Infra from the Netherlands was awarded the supervision contract for Section JL4 in January 2006. The organisation of the Supervision Joint Venture is shown in Fig 1.

Section JL4 covers the southernmost 247 km of the new line, within Guangdong province. The northern part of the province is a mountainous region, with an altitude of more than 1 500 m above sea-level, and narrow river valleys. Moving south, the valleys broaden out and the landscape opens up to form the low-lying Pearl River Delta.

Within Section JL4 there are 74 tunnels with a total length of 90 km and 142 bridges totalling 97 km. The longest tunnel is 10 340 m and the longest bridge is 9 720 m. These extensive structures make the timely completion of this section critical for the whole PDL project.

The construction supervision team includes around 200 Chinese supervisors and specialists, supported by eight engineers from Arcadis. In addition to the Chief Supervising Engineer, who will be on site for the whole 54 month project, the foreign experts are specialists in subgrade/embankment, bridges, tunnels, track, catenary, signalling and testing and commissioning, who will join the project for the relevant period as the work progresses.

The Chinese Project Director co-ordinates the work of the supervision centre and five sub-centres along the line. He also acts as the main contact with the client – the railway company. The foreign Chief Supervising Engineer is responsible for the quality of supervision over the whole of JL4. The main role for the foreign experts in the joint venture is to ensure a high quality of construction supervision and adherence to international standards.

The Deputy Chief Supervising Engineers heading each sub-centre are responsible for their subsection and local co-ordination of their teams on the site. Representing the Project Director and Chief Supervising Engineer, the deputies are the main contacts with the contractors on each section.

Good co-operation and communication between the three parties is essential. The first year has shown that this can work, with all parties accepting that they have to learn from each other. Apart from the demanding technical requirements, the cultural differences and the language barrier have proved to be the biggest challenges.

  • Local Chinese contractors are responsible for civil engineering work on the Wuhan – Guangzhou PDL; the formation takes shape near the entrance to the 901 m long Tie Zui Ling tunnel
  • Assembling the reinforcing bars for a precast concrete bridge girder, 32 m long and 13 m wide; in total the line will require 3 031 such segments
  • Around 18% of the new line will run in tunnel; this is the 1 907 m long Ping Tu tunnel Fig 1. Organisation of the Supervision Joint Venture for Section JL4 of the WuGuang PDL
  • A temporary bridge has been built to give the construction teams access to the site of the 2201 m long Bai Miao Bei Jiang bridge
  • <articlebox order="10">Over the next five years the Chinese Ministry of Railways expects to complete the construction of several Passenger Dedicated Lines totalling more than 7 000 km </articlebox>

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