ALSTOM plans to offer a 3·2m wide version of its AGV high speed train with distributed power in the bidding for the Beijing - Shanghai project. At the moment it is not clear whether Alstom will be bidding alone or as part of the EuroTrain consortium formed with Siemens to bid in Taiwan. Either way, the Europeans will be pitted against a Japanese consortium, probably led by Mitsubishi, which will be offering one of the most recent Shinkansen designs.

It is now almost certain that Chinese companies will be given the contracts for civil engineering work on the 1463 km line - they have amassed ample expertise in building railways in the last two decades. This leaves suppliers from outside China to provide rolling stock and probably an associated package of electrical, mechanical and communications equipment. Further details emerged at a railway construction summit in Hangzhou in late September.

The project continues to excite considerable interest among potential contractors, who may now have to exercise more patience while further studies are carried out - in September the Ministry of Railways invited a panel of experts to review the project and assess its potential. With estimates putting the cost at US$15bn to US$20bn, China is keen to be sure it is choosing the right technology. In any case, suppliers will have to reckon with a considerable degree of technology transfer.

Chinese Railways is meanwhile preparing to speed up services on conventional routes in April 2004. This will see selected trains on the Beijing - Shanghai line accelerated so that journey times are cut from 14h to 11h. The new line would allow trains to link the two cities in around 5h. n