More than 1000 locomotives are being built under technology transfer deals to augment Chinese Railways' fleet of high-horsepower traction. Murray Hughes finds that both North American and European companies are reaping the rewards - although Chinese products may soon be rolling west

CHINA is exerting a growing influence on the world railway market. Not only is western expertise and technology flooding into China, but China's own railway products are flowing the other way - and they could arrive soon in Western Europe.

Exporting railway equipment from China is not a new phenomenon. Chinese engineers helped build the Tanzania-Zambia Railway in the 1970s, and more recently Chinese locomotives and other rolling stock have been exported to Nigeria and Namibia. Iran uses Chinese-built main line, suburban and metro coaches, including double-deckers, while Pakistan has received locomotives and coaches from China. Last year Cuban Railways took delivery of 12 Chinese diesel locos, while the railways in Kazakhstan have a technology transfer agreement to build Chinese-designed diesels.

Europe may be next in line for Chinese exporters. British franchisee Serco-NedRail is giving serious consideration to a proposal for acquisition of Chinese-built DMUs to replace four-wheeled railbuses that trundle around on rural and suburban services in parts of northern England. Last year there was a plan to acquire 200 vehicles, but this was later cut to 140. The latest proposal is for a pilot fleet of 50 diesel multiple-unit cars.

While China's rolling stock industry has limited experience with DMU construction, it has developed expertise in many other areas. This is growing rapidly as more and more western companies sign up to supply rolling stock and other equipment under deals that include a technology transfer element.

Back in the mid-1980s, US builder General Electric secured a contract to supply 420 diesel locomotives rated at 4000hp to Chinese Railways, and these contributed in no small part to modernisation of the motive power fleet. Similarly, electric traction expertise arrived from France when Chinese Railways began to electrify its trunk lines in the 1970s and 1980s.

Since then Chinese Railways has expanded its network dramatically, and the Ministry of Railways is now deploying all its efforts to try and keep pace with demand. High on the agenda are massive imports of western expertise and technology.

This includes a huge injection of motive power, not least from GE. The American giant signed an agreement in November 2004 for 78 diesel locos of 4 000 hp with AC traction motors to be built at Erie, Pennsylvania. This was followed a year later by a further agreement to supply 300 diesel-electric locos in 2007-09. These will be 6000hp units for China's heavy haul freight routes, and will be built in conjunction with Qishuyan Locomotive Works.

But GE is not alone. In September last year rival Electro-Motive Diesel signed a contract for another 300 high horsepower diesels. These too will be rated at 6000hp, and Dalian Locomotive Works will assemble them under a licensing deal, with the first appearing in 2007. They will feature AC transmissions and EMD's 265H Series engines that meet the US Tier 2 emissions regulations.

China represents a valuable outlet for both GE's and EMD's high-horsepower technology that has not found universal favour in North America. EMD Chairman Jerry Greenwald commented at the time 'that the Chinese locomotive market has terrific opportunities for future growth and joint development'.

Another US supplier to benefit from Chinese co-operation is The Greenbrier Companies. In December 2004 it signed a long-term co-operation agreement with Zhuzhou Rolling Stock works which provides for the US company to use Chinese parts in its North American and European wagon plants. Zhuzhou builds around 6000 wagons a year.

European electrics

China has turned to Europe for expertise in boosting capacity on its electrified lines. Electrification has progressed to the point where the length of network under wires is longer than in Germany, and for heavy haul traction the Ministry of Railways is working with Siemens and long-standing partner Alstom.

A batch of 150 Type 8K twin-unit electric locos was supplied by the 50Hz Group from the Alsthom factory in Belfort in the 1980s, and these were deployed on CR's heavy haul coal line between Datong and Qinhuangdao. With capacity on this and other heavy haul routes at a premium, new motive power is urgently needed.

Alstom has cornered a further slice of the market, and a co-operation agreement signed in June 2004 with Datong Electric Locomotive Co provides for the partnership 'to compete in future calls for tender for locomotives in China'. Initially, Alstom will build heavy freight locos derived from the Prima design for SNCF (below). Later, the partnership will build locomotives for 'regular freight and for high speed passenger service'.

At the end of 2004, Siemens inked a deal with Zhuzhou Electric Loco Works for another 180 heavy haul electric locos. Rated at 9600 kW, these will be based on 20 Type DJ1 twin-units supplied by Siemens in 2001, the first three of which were built in Austria. These too are intended for service on the Da-Qin coal line, where traffic last year was expected to approach a record 150 million tonnes.

Handling such high tonnages requires specialist knowledge and expertise, and in April a group of 20 senior officials from the Ministry of Railways will visit Queensland Rail for training in heavy haul technology and management. This will be provided by consultancy iQR, which has arranged a six-day study tour for the visitors. This will include training in train operations management, track and structures, environmental, safety and risk analysis and visits to two universities. The Chinese delegates will also visit QR's driver simulator training centre and the coal handling facilities at Gladstone.

Track technology too

The Ministry of Railways has designated four 10 km sections of its emerging high speed passenger network on which various ballastless track designs are to be tested. One of these will be located on the Beijing - Tianjin high speed line, where German supplier Max Bögl is to provide the technology (p156).

Rival company Pfleiderer, now owned by Vossloh, also signed a contract with the Ministry of Railways on January 25 for transfer of Rheda 2000 ballastless track technology. This provides for Pfleiderer 'to act as prime contractor within a group of European companies that intend to support the implementation of Rheda 2000 ballastless systems in the People's Republic of China'. The company plans to set up a local subsidiary and will provide training in Europe and in China.

The first major project where Rheda 2000 technology will be used is a high speed line from Wuhan to Guangzhou. This double track alignment stretches for 989 km, 'the majority' of which will use the ballastless technique. Pfleiderer said it represents by far the largest ballastless track project to be carried out in China. Handling the scheme is a consortium of Pfleiderer, Eichholz, Heitkamp and the Dutch BAM Group, which expects to have the line ready for opening in 2010.

The Wuhan - Guangzhou line will require over 2 million sleepers, and Pfleiderer is providing its production plant technology to Chinese sleeper suppliers. This investment looks set to pay off as more than 12000 km of dedicated passenger route are planned or under construction. Special machines will be supplied for installation using a process similar to that developed on the Dutch HSL-Zuid project.

Major rolling stock contracts for China

SupplierProduct Quantity Partner Value First delivery
GE Transportation Diesel locos, 4000hp 78 - n/a 2006
GE Transportation Diesel locos, 6000hp 300 Qishuyan US$450m 2007
Electro-Motive Diesel Diesel locos, 6000hp 300 Dalian n/a 2007
Siemens Twin-unit electric locos 180 Zhuzhou €350m[1] 2006
Alstom Twin-unit electric locos 180 Datong €380m[2] 2007
Japanese consortium[3] 8-car EMUs 60 Nache Sifang ¥140m n/a
Bombardier C2008 8-car EMUs 20[4] Sifang Power US$424m 2006
Alstom C250 8-car EMUs 60 Changchun €620m[2] 2006
Siemens CRH3 8-car EMUs 60 Tangshan €1·3bn 2008

[1]. Siemens share of contract
[2]. Alstom share
[3]. Hitachi, Itochu, Mitsubishi, Marubeni
[4]. plus options

  • CAPTION: Siemens has supplied 20 Type DJ1 twin-section electric locos to China for heavy haul operations; the first three were built in Austria
  • CAPTION: EMD and Dalian are building 300 low-emission high-horsepower diesel locos under a contract from the Ministry of Railways
  • CAPTION: Under a contract signed in January, a Pfleiderer-led consortium is supplying its Rheda 2000 ballastless track technology as used on HSL-Zuid in the Netherlands for use on future Chinese high speed lines, starting with the 989 km Wuhan - Guangzhou route

Signalling contracts too

Among companies to secure contracts for signalling and train control technology in China is GE Infrastructure Rail, which is supplying its Incremental Train Control System as well as point machines and Locotrol equipment for remote control of locomotives.

In March 2005 the Ministry of Railways chose Nortel to provide GSM-R equipment for the Golmud - Lhasa line, now nearing completion. This followed trials with the company's wireless communications equipment in 2004.