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High speed rail has a vital role to play

01 Jan 2001

MAGNUS PERSSON, Director, Transport Policy, at Swedish State Railways, grabbed the attention of delegates to the International High Speed Railway Conference 2000, co-hosted by Central Japan Railway and West Japan Railway to commemorate the 25th anniversary of through services between Tokyo and Hakata on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen. Persson said that when he came to celebrate the 125th anniversary, he would bring a bottle of Swedish wine to the conference, something rendered possible by climate change. 'This is not a dream, but a nightmare', he warned. Pointing to rail's unexploited potential, he said that it was the only transport mode able to increase its speed substantially.

Persson's warning was chosen to match the theme of the conference: 21st Century Railways - Carving out the Future of Earth, Society & Humankind'. Numerous delegates addressed this directly, noting the scope for high speed rail to provide environmentally-acceptable and energy-efficient travel, although this only applied, as DB Netz AG Chairman Roland Heinisch reminded everyone, if the trains were well loaded.

Rail was called on to do nothing less, as one delegate put it, than 'contribute to the survival of our planet'. This notion was reflected in a formal commitment made at the close of the conference: 'environmental issues are the world's common and significant themes for the 21st century, for which the transportation sector ... has great responsibilities ... we, high speed railway operators, will make every effort to improve so that passengers will more than ever choose high speed railways.'

Highlighting the conflict between 'good housekeeping of the planet and short-term political tenures', Session II chairman Prof Rod Smith, who is Head of Mechanical Engineering at London's Imperial College of Science, Technology & Medicine, warned that it was difficult to meet this responsibility 'when we all live in economic systems that demand growth', with resources being consumed more quickly than they are replaced.

In the face of a widespread belief that rail was environmentally friendly, Heinisch warned of the danger of complacency as 'our competitors are not sleeping', with new technology being developed for car engines. Barbara Richardson, Executive Vice President of Amtrak, took up the theme, suggesting that to win passengers in a competitive environment, 'we need to understand the traveller's heart'. Looking forward to the December 11 debut of Acela Express, she believed that passengers should be treated as 'guests', who would use 'beautiful stations' and be offered service guarantees. Richardson reported that Amtrak was working with 30 states to develop high speed rail services.

The business world was placing increased value on time, and faster journeys are expected to attract fresh traffic to rail. Prof Shigeru Morichi of the University of Tokyo, referring to a possible 1 hour trip by a putative maglev shinkansen, suggested that this would put 70 million people in the market for travel between Tokyo and Osaka. Kofu, for example, would be just 15min from Tokyo, he said. Whether a maglev route will ever be built is a question that still has no answer, but the maglev versus steel rail argument has spread to China.

Deputy Director General of the High Speed Railway Office in China's Ministry of Railways Qi Meng Han, reported that there is a heated debate in China about the possible use of maglev technology for the planned Beijing - Shanghai high speed line. He noted that the government had decided to build a trial section of a Transrapid line in Shanghai to provide comparison with steel wheel technology, a decision which could delay a start on building the 1300 km route for many years. In comments attributed to Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji, a choice of technology is to be made by spring 2003, allowing construction to start by the end of 2005.

Han said that the line with 24 stations would have the capacity to handle 120 million passengers a year and that it would take much traffic from the existing route, allowing a substantial increase in freight capacity. Maximum speed will be 300 km/h or more, allowing a journey time of 6h compared with 14h now.

Chun-hwan Kim, Director of High Speed Project Management & Planning at Korean National Railroad, gave details of progress with the Seoul - Pusan high speed line project. Three Korean Train Express trainsets are now undergoing trials, building up to the maximum line speed of 300 km/h. By the end of December works on the Seoul - Taejon - Taegu high speed route were expected to be about 60% complete. Thanks to upgrading and electrification of the Taegu - Pusan section, KTX services should be launched in 2004. Completion of the new line right through to Pusan is not now expected until 2010, when the end-to-end journey time will come down to less than 2h.

CAPTION: On November 28 delegates were treated to a maglev ride at the Yamanashi test centre, reaching a maximum speed of 452 km/h

CAPTION: Qi Meng Han, Deputy Director General of the High Speed Railway Office in China's Ministry of Railways, said that there is no decision on whether to use steel wheel or maglev technology for the Beijing - Shanghai high speed line

HTE plans firming up

SPEAKING at the shinkansen commemorative conference in Nagoya on November 29-30, Chairman of DB Netz AG Roland Heinisch said that demand for the future European High Speed Train being developed jointly by German and French interests could total 1000 trainsets over 10 years. Known as the HTE (High speed Train Europe), it will be available in several versions. Included in the HTE family will be single and double-deck units and a tilting single-deck design.

Specifications are now being drawn up, and other railways may soon join the programme. The project team is looking at several evaluation criteria that include the price per m2. Decisions are still needed on the use of distributed power or separate power cars, and whether intermediate cars will be articulated.

  • In a message to the conference, SNCF President Louis Gallois predicted that the future would see the launch of high speed trains on overnight services and that passengers would be 'totally pampered'. Gallois believed that 'floating trains will not be seen for many years' and that the top speed in commercial service would be no faster than 320 km/h.