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25 april

Chinese express trains are ahead of the whole world

The well-known 'time is money' principle applies to the business of today as never before. To make everything on time and never be late, mankind keeps inventing new modes of transport. One of those modes is the High-Speed Links (HSL), that have conquered the hearts and the purses of millions of passengers all over the world.

In China, Japan and Europe trains that can travel 300-350 km in only an hour successfully compete with airplanes. The Celestial Empire, in its mastering of the new mode of transport with fanciful eagerness, has outperformed its closest competitors by many years.

In 2010-2012 alone the Chinese government and state banks have allocated approximately USD 355 bn for the development of railways, and the major portion of this funding was used for expanding the high-speed railway networks. This year China will invest another USD 104 bn in railways. Russia only dreams of creating HSL so far, raising the speed of its trains on the railway tracks built during the Soviet era.

Japan and China "stole" the dream from the Europeans

Engineers and designers have been trying to create express trains since the days when railroad transport first appeared. The first official speed record on a railroad, 210 kmph, was set in the suburbs of Berlin in 1903, long before the first airplane was built.

However, the long-nurtured dream of the Europeans for super-fast trains was destined to come true 60 years later in another part of the world. In 1964 the world's first high-speed railway line 'Shinkansen' was launched in Japan to connect Tokyo and Osaka, which now transports over 150 million passengers annually. Interestingly enough, there were no accidents on the line during the half-century of its operation.

A tremendous leap in the development of HSL (or high-speed rail) in the last 10 years was made by China, who left its nearest competitors from Europe and Asia far behind. If in mid-1990's the trains in the Celestial Empire were dragging along at a speed of 50 kmph, by 2000's their speed reached 200 kmph.

By 2013 the Chinese have built and upgraded over 8500 km of railroads for express and high-speed trains. Last December the longest and one of the fastest railway lines in the world was opened in PRC to connect Peking and Changzhou. Trains that run on this line travel a distance of 2300 km in only eight hours, reaching the speed of 350 kmph.

Such projects require significant financial investments from the state. In 2010 the government of China has invested a record-setting amount of 800 bn Yuan in the development of the railroad network, and in 2011-2012 another USD 226 bn were invested. The investment budget for 2013 is approximately USD 104 bn. By 2015 the Chinese expect to increase the total length of the railroad network by 120,000 km, of which 18,000 km are express railways.

Express trains are ahead of the planes

Europe is actively catching up with its Asian neighbors by creating an integrated HSL network, coordinating the activity of railroad operators and creating real competition to airline companies at travel distances of 600-800 km.

The pioneers of development of high-speed railways in this part of the world are Italy and France with their famous Pendolino and TGV trains. Since the opening of the first HSL from Paris to Lyon in 1981, TGV trains have repeatedly beaten their own speed records by passing a fantastic speed limit for the overground transportation of 570 kmph.

The Germans and Spaniards followed the lead of the French, and in 1994 a high-speed line was launched to connect the capital cities of France and England through a tunnel under La Manche. After the line was opened, the number of flights between Paris and London dropped by several times.

The overall length of high-speed railways and the volumes of passenger transportation are growing today at a record pace all over the world. According to the forecast of the International Union of Railways, by 2014 the length of the HSL network will grow from today's 17,000 km to 27,000 km.

We will take the other way

In Russia the project of high-speed railroads was the subject of development already back in 1970's, and at the end of 1980 a program of HSL development was adopted. However, it was forgotten in the 1990's for obvious reasons. It was only at the beginning of twenty-first century that the idea of high-speed railway service was successfully implemented in our country.

We chose not to build separate railway lines for HSL as they do it abroad, instead, the trains purchased from the German Siemens and French Alstom were put into operation on the existing infrastructure. In 2009 the Sapsans started cruising at 200 kmph between the two capitals — Moscow and St.Petersburg. The same trains also connected the Original Capital with Nizhniy Novgorod. The Allegro express trains carry the passengers from the Northern Capital to Helsinki, and in January 2013 the Martinet trains were launched to cruise from St.Petersburg to Veliky Novgorod and Bologoe.

In 2012 Sapsan and Allegro trains transported 3.5 million passengers. These trains have transported over 9 million passengers since December 2009 when they were launched. The average load ratio of these trains exceeds 80%. The Sapsan and Allegro trains carry passengers at the speed of 200 kmph. The average speed of the long-distance trains of the Federal Passenger Company does not exceed 60 kmph today.

There are two core directions of HSL development in Russia with speeds up to 350 kmph that are under consideration. These include that already proved Moscow-Petersburg route as well as the Moscow-Nizhny Novgorod-Kazan-Yekaterinburg and Moscow — Rostov-on-Don — Adler lines.

According to the first Vice-President of RZD JSC Alexander Misharin (in charge of the 'Skorostnye Magistrali' company that supervises the project), the pilot HSL construction directions will most probably be the Moscow-Kazan line.

"It is more practicable (to construct the link — note by RBK) Eastwards, as there is a development perspective — to extend it to Yekaterinburg with the inclusion of Perm, Chelyabinsk and Ufa. This already involves geopolitics, access to China", explained the top manager of RZD.

The representatives of the Institute for the Issues of Natural Monopolies (IPEM) highlight that the rapid development of high-speed passenger railway transportation in France, Germany, Japan and China is supported and subsidized by the government.

"In Russia, like in the USA, for example, there is no clear government position on the HSL passenger carriage. However, unlike Russia, the United States does not have critical need in railway passenger carriage, as small aviation and bus connections are well developed there", believes the analytical expert of IPEM Lev Ruzavin.

According to him, in our country "regional aviation is on the decline, and bus carriages are performed by a large number of private companies that cannot be supervised, meaning that the required level of safety cannot be guaranteed".

Alexander Volobuev, RBC

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