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High Speed Rail in China
September 13, 2011 2:54 PM   Subscribe

How Fast Can China Go? On June 30, China had the first official run of a $32 billion high-speed train line between Shanghai and Beijing. "Faster (820 miles in 288 minutes) and sleeker than any other, the needle-nosed CRH380A symbolizes China’s accelerating pace, even as it faces questions about safety, and taps into an ancient rivalry with Japan." On page four, the article discusses what happened less than a month afterwards on July 23rd: the country's first accident involving a bullet train that killed 40 people near Wenzhou. As a result, 54 high speed trains were recalled, train speeds were reduced and an overhaul of the high-speed rail system was launched by Chinese authorities.

A video purportedly taken on the train five minutes before the accident went viral. (Caution, may be disturbing to some viewers.)

Wikipedia has background on the incident.
posted by zarq (25 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, at least it's still symbolic...
posted by aubilenon at 2:57 PM on September 13, 2011


China wanted to sell high-speed train projects to the US. It'll be interesting to see whether that will fall through or not.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:21 PM on September 13, 2011


US companies can't send business to China fast enough, BP, and nothing (lead, melamine) has ever convinced them otherwise.
posted by tommasz at 3:24 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Weren't some of the people who ran that project eventually executed for corruption?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:27 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even "Chinese" high speed rail is probably safer than driving, all things considered... I felt a lot safer sitting on their maglev trains than being in Shanghai traffic, although it was unnerving when the two trains passed each other mere feet apart, at a combined speed of, what, 500mph... and the physics demonstration of centripetal force was cool (a long lazy turn tilted the whole train about 30 degrees off vertical but everything stayed planted to the floor)
posted by xdvesper at 3:42 PM on September 13, 2011


China wanted to sell high-speed train projects to the US. It'll be interesting to see whether that will fall through or not.

Given that the teabaggers have scuttled US high-speed rail plans (with the exception of California, which is still going, though expected to encounter heavy resistance from NIMBYs), I don't think China's safety record is the major stumbling block here.
posted by acb at 4:03 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


We did just buy a prefab bridge from China, from all account at-cost.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:08 PM on September 13, 2011


And authorities tried to bury the evidence before the dust had even settled.
posted by Popular Ethics at 4:09 PM on September 13, 2011


taps into an ancient rivalry with Japan

The Indian press is breathlessly talking up how the 21st Century belongs to India & China.

Strangely enough, I find it impossible to conceive of an Indian train travelling at over 170MPH - they're very lucky to go a quarter that speed, on a good day.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:22 PM on September 13, 2011


Meanwhile, in Japan, during the Shinkansen's 45-year, nearly 7 billion-passenger history, there have been no passenger fatalities due to derailments or collisions (from Wikipedia).
posted by Rash at 4:26 PM on September 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


And authorities tried to bury the evidence before the dust had even settled.

Hmm. Does the fact that the Chinese government invariably tries to cover stuff like this up suggest that there's lots of times that covering something up, does, in fact, "work" from their perspective, and we just don't know about it? Or have they just failed to adapt to how freaking hard it is to cover something up in the internet era?
posted by jcreigh at 4:40 PM on September 13, 2011


China can go as fast as the government wants, so long as the government continues with the following:

- Tolerating an endemic level of corruption, with relatively few token prosecutions (and executions) when the corruption becomes public enough

- Maintaining control of the telecommunications infrastructure (i.e. ability to limit the spread of information deemed unfavorable to the government and their projects), so that said corruption does not become "public enough" very often

- Sufficiently important people, their families and children remain lucky enough to dodge the disasters that befall everyone else (shoddy construction, melamine, lead, and other contamination, pervasive pollution, and bullet train derailments). Because even a problem that equals the worst disasters in recorded history (epidemics excepted) couldn't possibly wipe out more than 5% of the population.
posted by chimaera at 4:46 PM on September 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


China: slows trains to 183moh for Safety reasons
USA: still trying to get more than 20 miles of track where our one train goes over 120mph.
posted by humanfont at 4:51 PM on September 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Meanwhile, in Japan, during the Shinkansen's 45-year, nearly 7 billion-passenger history, there have been no passenger fatalities due to derailments or collisions (from Wikipedia)

And before the accident, the Chinese government was boasting that "many of the technological indicators used by China’s high-speed railways are far better than those used in Japan’s shinkansen" and there was no possible way China could have simply copied the Japanese patents.

I wish China had set aside ethnic rivalry and simply consulted with Japan about how to build a train that doesn't have fatal crashes in a thunderstorm.
posted by shii at 5:12 PM on September 13, 2011


I originally heard of this story in the context of the outrage that it sparked on social media platforms in China. Here are a couple interesting articles that relate what's happening in China to the Jasmine Revolution.
posted by bloody_bonnie at 5:14 PM on September 13, 2011


CSR [China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Industry (Group) Corp.] obtained Japanese high-speed technology starting in 2004 as part of a deal with Kawasaki. CSR engineers and executives say they have adapted and improved that technology to make trains that are faster and better. The fastest trains now operating in Japan and Europe run about 199 mph.
...
Kawasaki, in a statement, says it and other high-speed train producers disagree with China's claim that it has created its own technology. Most of its trains in operation today, some executives say, are almost exactly the same as its foreign partners' trains. They cite a few tweaks to the exterior paint scheme and interior trims and a beefed-up propulsion systems for faster speeds. "China says she owns exclusive rights to that intellectual property, but Kawasaki and other foreign companies feel otherwise," Kawasaki said in a statement, adding that it hopes to resolve the issue through commercial talks.


WSJ: Train Makers Rail Against China's High-Speed Designs
(Nov. 2010)
posted by gen at 6:15 PM on September 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


There are about 40 trains a day from Beijing to Shanghai (not all high speed yet). They carry about 1,000 people each. In a month, that's almost a billion passenger-miles.

The US averages about one fatality per 100 million passenger miles in cars. If the US had two cities with as much traffic between them as Beijing and Shanghai, and everyone drove, you'd expect about 10 deaths per month.

So killing 40 passengers in a month is bad, but not spectacularly terrible. And I'm sure the trains will get much safer after this disaster.
posted by miyabo at 7:49 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I rode the high speed rail days after this accident occurred. Thank you, that is all.
posted by vorpal bunny at 8:11 PM on September 13, 2011


For a good comparison, wouldn't you want to know the number of Chinese auto accident fatalities too?
posted by smackfu at 9:08 PM on September 13, 2011


Given that the teabaggers have scuttled US high-speed rail plans

Jesus farking Christ.

Teabaggers = Abu Ghraib. It's like 2004/2005 all over again, where we had 8,128 consecutive threads where someone had to whine about Abu Ghraib.

2004 thread about Chinese trains: "B-b-but Abu Ghraib!"
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:38 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


taps into an ancient rivalry with Japan."

Japan's rivalry with China is barely a century old. Before that, Japan was hicksville to China.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:04 PM on September 13, 2011


miyabo: So killing 40 passengers in a month is bad, but not spectacularly terrible.

I think it's much more than pretty terrible when you compare it to Japan Rail's record with the Shinkansen, which I'll repeat from Rash's comment above:

"during the Shinkansen's 45-year, nearly 7 billion-passenger history, there have been no passenger fatalities due to derailments or collisions"
(Wikipedia)

China had the opportunity to purchase not only the hardware but also the knowledge and training needed to run a HSR system safely from the Japanese. China chose to purchase a few cars, start copying them, and then selling them as "Chinese" within a few years. Sadly, the passengers of China's high-speed rail program pay the price of the corruption and lack of safety and training. Some of them paid with their life.

Also, the previous MeFi thread on the Wenzhou crash.
posted by gen at 10:23 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


The best English-language coverage (imo) on the Wenzhou crash was from Charles Custer at Chinageeks.org.
posted by gen at 10:30 PM on September 13, 2011


I'm not arguing that killing 40 people in a train crash is a great thing to do. I just think that a lot of articles in the US media have a fairly transparent anti-China bias, even when topics have very little to do with China's repressive government.

The US, too, has a deeply flawed transportation network. Our only high speed train, which isn't even high speed by international standards, also has a horrible safety record partially caused by government incompetence. (The government required Acela to increase the weight of the trains by 30%, causing the brakes to crack.) But you don't see this kind of commentary indicting the entire US system for one failure.
posted by miyabo at 8:00 AM on September 14, 2011


Our only high speed train, which isn't even high speed by international standards, also has a horrible safety record

It looks like Acela has only had one crash, and that was due to someone running a railroad crossing. That's horrible in your book?
posted by smackfu at 9:07 AM on September 14, 2011


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