INTRO: A radical restructuring of Chinese Railways’ timetable paves the way for faster services and quality improvements over the next few years. Chris Jackson discussed the technical advances and research projects underpinning CR’s next five-year investment plan with Ju Jiaxing, Executive Vice-President of the China Academy of Railway Sciences

ON OCTOBER 1 Chinese Railways will launch a radical new timetable, based around higher maximum speeds on its five trunk routes which came into effect from July 1. Premier services on the Beijing - Shanghai, Beijing - Guangzhou, Beijing - Harbin, Shenyang - Dalian and Lianyungan - Xi’an corridors are now able to run at up to 160 km/h. Speeds on selected other routes were increased from 120 to 140 km/h at the same time.

The aim is to boost the quality and capacity of passenger services between the principal cities, in a bid to reverse a decline in traffic over the past few years resulting from increased road and air competition. CR is also looking to improve the quality of its freight services, although there are currently no plans to raise freight train speeds from the present 80 to 85 km/h range.

Freight has been the mainstay of Chinese rail traffic over the past 50 years, and only in the last decade has increased personal mobility led to an exponential growth in passenger demand. The current restructuring recognises this changing balance between passenger and freight, and the widely differing requirements that each puts on the national network.

Although CR’s latest results show a slight falling-off in total traffic in the past few years, the Ministry of Railways believes that this is mostly to do with quality of service. Road, sea and air are increasing their market share despite the relatively inadequate infrastructure, creaming off some of rail’s traditional flows. However, the overall transport market is expected to continue growing significantly.

During 1997 CR handled 1·62 billion tonnes of freight and 919 million passengers, converted to a total of 1658·6 billion tonne-km. This was handled on a network of 66000 route-km, giving an average traffic density of over 25 million tonne-km per route-km. In 1996 this figure was almost 28·7 million, which was three times the equivalent for the USA and twice that for Japan and Russia. Within the national average are several ’hot spots’ - during 1996 the five busiest corridors averaged 96·6 million tonne-km per route-km, with over 80% of theoretical capacity in use.

Boosting capacity

With line capacity already close to saturation on these routes, widening the speed differential between passenger and freight trains would simply aggravate the situation. Hence the need for a radical restructuring of service patterns, which will concentrate passenger trains on some routes and freight onto others.

For example, the bulk of north-south freight traffic will be transferred onto the Beijing - Kowloon (Jingjiu) line completed last year, while passenger trains continue to use the established Beijing - Guangzhou route. This serves a substantial number of big cities along the way, while the Jingjiu line was built through open country. It was also laid out for freight, with a line speed limit of 120 km/h and state-of-the-art marshalling yards at key locations.

Clearly there will still be a requirement for local freight services on the passenger route and some passenger trains on the freight lines, but CR is confident that these can be accommodated with minimal impact on capacity.

Clearly the concept of separate freight and passenger corridors can only work where parallel lines exist. Hence the underlying strategy in the Ministry’s 245bn yuan five-year investment plan for the creation of eight more trunk corridors (p611). These include a mix of new dedicated passenger and freight lines and the melding together of some existing branches into through routes. As well as the new lines, investment will also be channelled into the present network, with double-tracking and electrification work to be stepped up.

As an interim measure until the additional routes are available, CR is looking to adjust the mix of trains to maximise line capacity. Passing and overtaking loops are being lengthened to take 1085m long freight trains, and the target is to run gross trailing loads of 5000 tonnes. This will allow freight traffic to be consolidated into fewer trains, releasing capacity for extra passenger services. Careful scheduling will minimise the number of times the mega-freights have to be looped and restarted for passenger services to overtake.

Four-aspect colourlight signalling is now specified for the core routes, together with 60 kg/m rails as standard for renewals. Research is now under way into increasing the maximum axleloads. Moving from 21 to 25 tonnes would provide a valuable increase in payload, although such vehicles would initially be restricted to the Datong - Qinhuangdao and Shenmu - Huanghua coal corridors. Changes to operating patterns would be needed to keep heavy axleload wagons on these corridors; at present even coal is largely handled as a wagonload commodity rather than in unit trains.

Passenger innovations

As well as faster journey times, CR is looking to improve the quality of its passenger network by running a more frequent service of shorter trains. Completion of a new national computerised ticketing system (p608) should alleviate many of the present problems in getting a seat or sleeper berth on the more popular routes.

Nor is 160 km/h seen as the limit. CR is already looking at running at 180 or 200 km/h where line conditions permit. The Ministry of Railways has set a target of a maximum 15 h journey to anywhere within a 1500 km radius of Beijing - a 100 km/h start-to-stop average currently only achieved by the crack overnight non-stop sleepers between Beijing and Shanghai.

The Ministry, with the support of the China Academy of Railway Sciences and other organisations, began even higher speed trials on June 15, using a 50 km section of the Beijing - Guangzhou line near Zhengzhou. A new national speed record of 240 km/h was achieved using a modified SS8 electric loco and a five-car trainset. Two test cars and three modern inter-city coaches - two single-deckers from Changchun and a Puzhen double-decker - were equipped with new designs of high-speed bogies for the trials, which were conducted jointly by CARS and the manufacturing plants.

Tangshan locomotive works has already completed a four-car double-deck DMU for 160 km/h running, which entered service between Nanchang and Jiujiang in July. Later this year Puzhen works will roll-out a similar single-deck unit. These are two be followed next year by a 200 km/h EMU from Puzhen with two GTO thyristor power cars and a central trailer. The multiple-units will underpin CR’s short and frequent strategy, with the potential for multiple working up to 15-car trains (nine powered + six trailers) as demand grows.

The dedicated passenger lines from Beijing to Shanghai and Shenyang are being designed from the outset for high speeds, and several other routes are being realigned in places to eliminate sharp curves. However, such realignment is not possible on routes in mountainous territory, notably those feeding the southwestern provices which the Chinese government have singled out for the next phase of economic development. Thus CR is looking to follow the current world trend for tilting trains in order to raise line speeds.

An early opportunity to test the potential of tilt came in May, when a 25 kV prototype X2000 trainset leased by the semi-autonomous Guangshen Railway Co underwent proving trials at the CARS test track near Beijing. The 200 km/h unit has been leased from Adtranz for two years, although the Guangzhou - Shenzhen - Kowloon route will not benefit greatly from tilt as it is already cleared for 180 km/h operation with conventional trains.

CARS sees considerable potential for tilt on the lines to Chengdu, Chongqing and Kunming, as its studies suggest that speeds can be increased by 30 to 50%, for example from 100 to 150 km/h. This would bring significant journey time savings on routes of around 500 km, such as the Chengdu - Chongqing corridor. However, it is unlikely that CR will import complete trainsets like X2000; the Ministry of Railways favours a joint venture agreement for the transfer of tilt technology to one of the Chinese rolling stock plants, where it would be mated with locally-developed vehicles.

Changing face of freight

Within the freight market too, the mix is changing. Coal has traditionally been the primary traffic, and it still accounts for 45% of total tonnage. Other bulk loads such as grain, ore and construction materials provide most of the rest. As yet, CR does not have a significant share of premium freight where the biggest market growth is expected.

A market with substantial potential is landbridge traffic between China’s Pacific Rim neighbours and Europe. The existing routes into Russia via Manchuria and Mongolia were augmented in the early 1990s by the Alatau Pass corridor to the Kazakhstan border at Druzhba, and such has been the growth in business that much of this route has already been double-tracked. Under the current five-year plan, studies are also being conducted for a direct link into the Central Asian states via the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

CR is keen to develop landbridge traffic, and last year signed a co-operation agreement with the Japan Freight Railway to improve operational performance, international marketing, and load monitoring. One critical area to be addressed is shipment tracking, as CR remains a ’black hole’ to the growing global electronic data networks which allow shippers to monitor continuously the location of their high-value consignments.

CR is also keen to boost intermodal business to and from the ports, phasing out 1 and 5 tonne domestic containers in favour of ISO standard 20 and 40 ft units. Several trial services have been started, but rail’s share of the international freight market remains below 2%. One critical area to be addressed is the present customs requirement for all inward containers to be ’destuffed’ at the port for examination, which creates a natural break-bulk point.

On the heavy-haul front, CARS has been working with many partners to develop a complete package of technology for trains up to 10000 tonnes. This includes stronger drawgear and couplers, sturdier wagons able to take faster coupling speeds and heavier end loads, and better brake components, all of which can now be manufactured locally. Qiqihar wagon works has been working with CARS and other institutes to develop a cross-braced three-piece bogie offering lower track forces for 25 tonne axleloads. CARS is also following with interest the current moves in North America, Europe and Australia to introduce electronically-controlled pneumatic brakes.

At present CR is regularly operating trains up to 6000 tonnes on the Daqin coal route, as and when required. Elsewhere, the heaviest mixed freight trains now top 4000 tonnes on the Beijing - Harbin corridor. These achieve a respectable end-to-end average speed of 50 km/h.

Another innovation targeted at the premium freight market is dedicated express parcels services, announced at the beginning of June. Many long-distance passenger trains already carry substantial parcels traffic, and CR is now looking to build this market sector into a stand-alone business.

Staff changes too

With almost 3·4 million staff under the control of the Ministry of Railways, CR is one of the country’s biggest employers. Over the next few years this is set to change, with a major programme of organisational restructuring. As in many other countries where activities have been spun off or contracted out, CR is looking to concentrate on its core business, and free its ancilliary operations to operate independently from government control.

The whole question of staff reductions and re-employment is fundamental to the continuing process of railway reform. For a long time CR has been over-staffed and overburdened, resulting in low productivity and constraining rail development. Streamlining to improve efficiency is an integral part of the reform process. The Ministry of Railways has set a target of structurally separating 1·1 million staff and taking 300000 out of railway operations by 2000.

The first of these groups covers employees in the five general corporations covering engineering, construction, locomotives and rolling stock, material supply, and signalling and telecommunications, together with similar business units within the various regional railway administrations. Under the structural separation programme, these activities will be hived off from the railway’s core operating function and the staff will manage their own enterprises as freestanding businesses in the marketplace.

The reduction of 300000 in railway staff will see the operations and transport payroll reduced from 1·7 to 1·4 million by the end of the century. Such a large cut is almost unprecedented in recent Chinese history, and the government is making careful preparations to ensure that leavers’ living standards are protected. Redundancies will be managed as far as possible through a mix of re-employment, retraining and the provision of more opportunities for laid-off workers in the development of a diversified economy. o

CAPTION: Many of Chinese Railways’ principal expresses are handled by 180 km/h Dongfeng 11 diesel locos. Originally developed for the Beijing - Shanghai (above) and Guangzhou - Kowloon routes, the class has now been expanded to almost 100 units

CAPTION: A new Chinese rail speed record of 240 km/h was set in June during trials on the Beijing - Zhengzhou main line, using a modified Shaoshan8 electric loco hauling five coaches including a Puzhen-built double-decker (above) and a Changchun single-deck inter-city coach with experimental high-speed bogies (inset)

CAPTION: Right: Under development at the China Academy of Railway Sciences test track outside Beijing is a prototype magnetic levitation vehicle and a short elevated guideway

Left: On trial at the CARS test centre is the GTO thyristor drive for a 200 km/h EMU due to be rolled out of Nanjing’s Puzhen rolling stock works next year. A fleet of EMUs operating with up to 15 coaches in multiple forms part of CR’s strategy for more intensive passenger services between key city pairs

CAPTION: A prototype double-deck DMU developed by Tangshan Loco & Rolling Stock Works is being tested in revenue service between Jiujiang and Nanjang. Able to operate at up to 140 km/h, the four-car set powered by two 660 kW diesel engines has 3+2 seating for 540 passengers

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