LAST MONTH we reported extensively on China’s technology transfer deals which have given the country’s railway industry expertise in heavy haul and high speed EMU technology. So we were not unduly surprised to learn that Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun had said on March 9 that foreign technology was not needed for the Beijing - Shanghai high speed line.

The 1337 km project has tantalised suppliers of high speed trains and associated E&M equipment for more than a decade. Now that the line has been given official ’priority’ status in the 2006-10 expansion plan (RG 3.06 p119), with approval from the State Council following on March 13, action looks imminent - some reports suggest that work could start before the end of this year.

Liu Zhijun’s statement, as reported in China Daily, said that ’we are confident and capable of completing the railway through the efforts of our engineers and technicians’. He added that Chinese Railways would nonetheless need to ’assimilate some elements’, a phrase that is open to interpretation. Share prices among potential bidders fluttered at the news, but some observers took the comments to be a response to a high-level political call for China to remain economically independent.

In fact, it appears that there is official acknowledgement of the need for foreign involvement in the Beijing - Shanghai line. When the State Council stamped its seal on the scheme on March 13, it said that the project would attract ’private, public and foreign investment’.

Commenting on March 10, Alstom Transport President Philippe Mellier said that as far as he knew the Chinese did not yet have the know-how to build and operate trains able to run at 300 km/h - although this will change once the Siemens technology transfer deal for CRH3 trainsets is up and running (RG 12.05 p749). He also pointed out that the scale of the Chinese Railways expansion and development programme means that negotiating separate deals each time new trains are required would be impossible, making technology transfer essential.

More controversial is a Chinese claim to possess the technology for building a 170 km maglev line from Shanghai to Hangzhou, another scheme now enjoying high-level support. The Chinese were testing their own maglev vehicle as long ago as 1998, since when they will have gained a great deal of practical experience with the 31 km Transrapid link to Pudong Airport. This has no doubt fuelled local ambitions, but the announcement may simply be a negotiating ploy aimed at Transrapid’s German suppliers.

  • Jaakko P