How advanced is Chinese train technology compared to American tech?
Chinese train technology has come a long way since the country started rolling out its first high-speed trains over two decades ago. As China’s railway system continues to grow and expand, the technological capabilities of trains in the world’s most populous country continue to increase as well. But just how advanced are Chinese trains compared to those in the United States? Here’s a look at some of the key differences between China’s railway technology and American train tech, including both improvements in Chinese rail equipment as well as shortcomings that still exist in China’s rail industry today.
China has introduced high-speed trains to many more cities
China currently has 20,000 kilometers of high-speed rail track, while in America there is just 6,700 km. In 2014 China’s high-speed network carried more than 2.3 billion passengers with a 99.9% on-time rate—just 0.1% off schedule —while many US trains arrive late and Amtrak even got rid of its café cars. What happened to America’s love affair with trains?
China has plans to add another 13,000 km of high-speed rail by 2020, which would mean eight out of 10 passengers will live within 1,500 meters of a station. Meanwhile, in America, just 4% of Amtrak routes are on time and its trains have lost $2.5 billion over their lifetime due to poor on-time performance.
China’s high-speed rails are more economical
The average distance of a high-speed rail track in China is 200 miles, while that of America’s high-speed rail is only 50 miles. In fact, China has 2/3 of the world’s total length of high-speed rail tracks. The average speed for American tracks is 90 miles per hour; that for China goes up to 125 mph and 150 mph in some cases. The result?
China’s high-speed rail tickets are much cheaper, which makes it very convenient for ordinary people. For example, a Beijing to Shanghai ticket costs USD 14.50 on America’s Acela Express, while a Beijing to Shanghai high-speed rail ticket costs just USD 2 on China’s CRH380A train (the world’s fastest in commercial use). What’s more, China has built over 5200 miles of new high-speed rail tracks since 2009.
The technology might be leading edge
China has over 27,000 miles of high-speed rail lines. This allows you to ride in trains that travel up to 186 miles per hour, making traveling between cities like Beijing and Shanghai a breeze. On top of speed, China’s high-speed trains are technologically savvy with features like seat reservation systems and large LED screens, which show ads and maps so riders don’t have to stare out a window at China’s beautiful but nonstop landscape. The United States doesn’t have anything quite as advanced yet; our fastest trains can only reach speeds of around 150 miles per hour, though Amtrak is working on expanding its Acela Express service to include faster routes. The average US commute time is 26 minutes longer than it was 25 years ago—maybe we should take some cues from China and make riding a train more enjoyable for our fellow commuters!
U.S. trains have more issues with track switches and signaling systems
In November, a New Jersey Transit train crashed into Hoboken Terminal. In March, Amtrak’s Cascades derailed in Washington state, killing three people and causing $40 million in damages. Meanwhile, China has developed signaling systems that can automatically adjust speed based on congestion ahead; they’ve also implemented voice-activated controls that can operate trains entirely hands-free. The U.S., by contrast, still relies on track switches that must be manually operated by conductors—and even then, many accidents are caused by human error or negligence.
China’s rail system supports almost double capacity
As of January 2018, China has 36,000 kilometers of high-speed railway lines and all 50,000 kilometers will be in service by 2020. The US has no more than 10,000 kilometers of railways that can accommodate fast-moving trains. On top of that, China’s trains are manufactured domestically. In contrast, most of America’s railroads rely on foreign imports from Germany or Japan. One reason for China’s ability to produce its own trains at a lower cost is its large population base—the country has nearly 1.4 billion people—which allows it to achieve economies of scale when manufacturing complex products like high-speed railcars.
China’s high-speed rail system is safer than the U.S. counterpart
China’s high-speed rail system has proven itself safer than its U.S. counterpart, though it has a long way to go before being on par with Western countries, according to railway experts in China and abroad. Data from China’s Ministry of Railways shows that no passenger died in any of its trains during the first quarter of 2018, while in America one person dies every 200 million miles traveled on Amtrak’s intercity lines due to a rate well above their European counterparts.
The data also showed that there were 19 derailments involving Chinese bullet trains between 2012 and 2017, none of which resulted in deaths or injuries. But in contrast, Amtrak saw two fatal accidents within three weeks last year – one near Philadelphia in May 2017 killed eight people and another struck a truck just outside Tacoma, Washington state, killing three passengers.
Both countries use magnetic levitation (maglev) on short distances
only Japan’s Chuo Shinkansen line uses maglev in its entirety, though Germany’s Transrapid can reach speeds of 310 km/h (193 mph). In comparison, China’s Shanghai Maglev Train reaches speeds of up to 430 km/h (267 mph), making it faster than most countries’ conventional high-speed trains. Other countries using maglevs include South Korea and Singapore, whose lines are not yet operational. The United States has no plans for a commercial maglev line, but several experimental tracks have been built around the country. The Japanese government recently announced plans to build a $100 billion maglev network connecting Tokyo with Nagoya, Osaka, and Fukuoka by 2045.