China considers construction of super-high-speed railways
Fuxing train C2008 is seen leaving Tianjin Railway Station, Aug. 21, 2017. China's new-generation bullet trains, the Fuxing, were put into operation on the Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Railway Aug. 21. (Xinhua/Yang Baosen)
The attempt to accelerate the speed of its bullet trains to more than 1,000 kilometers per hour (kph), with trips being shortened from hours to minutes, hopefully may soon go beyond fictional imagination and come true, the Chinese newspaper Science Daily reported recently.
At the recent 3rd China International Commercial Aerospace Forum in Wuhan, Hubei Province, the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp (CASIC) announced its scientists were exploring the viability of trains running at supersonic speeds.
As envisioned in 2013 by Elon Musk, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Space X from the United States, passenger and freight trains would eventually reach a top speed of 1,207 kph.
In May, the U.S. based Hyperloop One claimed they had completed a test for trains to run at 111 kph in a vacuum, raising this to 310 kph two months later. However, the laboratory results are nothing exceptional if comparing to the latest launch of China's Fuxing Express, capable of running at normal speed of 350 kph, let alone the intra-city operation of Shanghai's maglev trains reaching 430 kph.
According to Mao Kai, CASIC technological project director, the diminution of air resistance and the reduction of friction on tracks working as homogeneous approaches globally are essential to the drastic acceleration of bullet trains.
However, despite goodwill and high expectations, the labyrinth of the core technologies remains unraveled.
Professor Zhao Yong, from the superconductor and new energies research center of Southwest Jiaotong University, has engaged in the study of maglev trains moving in vacuum tubes for about six years. He catalogued three major technological conundrums waiting to be solved for the acceleration of high-speed expresses.
The first problem is to create sufficient and less costly vacuum space that encompasses space for the platforms needed for passengers to enter or exit the trains; Second, a super-high-speed railway needs linear traction technology, which however, has had difficulty in generating an impetus strong enough to make the train speed up' and third, the maglev technologies are still immature.
However, Mao said, there would be no need to build an absolute vacuum surrounding which may increase the complexity and costs of the projects. CASIC is seeking major technological breakthroughs, such as, the adoption of super-conduction magnetic levitation, though the technology is still to be improved.
"Even though the manned aerospace exploration has enabled CASIC to develop vacuum technologies by drawing on its resourceful experiences, it remains a big challenge to build vacuum tubes between cities and towns over huge distances," said Mao.
China has laid out three strategic phases for building the network of super-high-speed railways, while feasibility is still under discussion.
In view of the blueprint, the network will ultimately facilitate the interconnection of "Belt and Road" countries after the experimental operations of trains running between towns and city groups throughout China.
"It's a huge and complicated system, which needs meticulous verification, so it remains too early to announce an exact agenda," Mao said.
At the same time, some U.S. companies desirous of partnering China in the particular field and advised their Chinese counterparts to look for ways to generate income that can cover portions of the cost and lower ticket prices.