EDITOR’S EYE: Full steam ahead for Chinese trains
It’s happened again. Just a week after I suggested that I am struggling to get excited or impressed by the continuing feats of Chinese engineering, the Editor’s Eye Curse has returned with a vengeance. Yes, the country that invented gunpowder, hydraulics, paper, printing, bells, coffins, forks, acupuncture, banknotes, beer, toothbrushes, chemical warfare, dominoes, kites, land mines, wheelbarrows, playing cards, restaurant menus, suspension bridges, tea, toilet paper, and arguably, football, is now working on another new toy. Forget the regular high-speed trains; the Chinese are now working on a train that travels at a staggering 1,000 kilometres per hour. I admit, I am impressed.
According to reports in Chinese media last week, researchers at a university in Sichuan province are working on the new maglev (magnetic levitation) train that eliminates air resistance by creating a vacuum to reduce friction. Now why did no-one think of that before?
So let’s put this into perspective; these trains would run at speeds of up to 1,000kph. The current top speed of any high-speed train is 581kph, set by Japan’s JR-Maglev MLX01 in 2003. This Chinese model would be more than 400kph faster. In fact, the new train would be also significantly faster than the average passenger plane, which travels at around 650kph. This comparison is key; it means that domestic air travel’s one big advantage over land-based alternatives could soon be at an end. After all, why go through the hassle of getting to an out-of-town airport, navigating check-in desks, security and baggage checks, and all those other little annoyances of air travel, when you can go to your local city railway station and hop on a train that gets you to your destination in half the time?
It is a truly stunning development which has the potential to have a major impact on the travel industry. If it was in any country, I would say “don’t hold your breath; it probably won’t be ready for another 50 years”. But the Chinese plan to launch commercial services within the next decade! One thing’s for certain; never again will I underestimate the Chinese.