On a trial run in northeastern China, the new Harbin-Dalian high-speed train flew through mountainous provinces at peak speeds of 300km/h, or 186mph. It made the 921 km trip from Harbin to Dalian in only four hours, a distance that’s roughly equivalent to cruising from Washington, D.C. to Montreal. That is one fast train, and it’s going to get faster.
Once engineers pass it through a couple more safety checks and test runs, China Northern Railways’ modified CRH380A trains will be able to cruise the same track at a nostril-scorching 350km/h average — or 217mph. This cuts the same trip down by nearly an hour. Conditioned for incredible disparities in regional climate along the line, the weather-proofed train cars will be able to comfortably withstand temperatures from 104 degrees Fahrenheit down to 40 below.
While Chines bullet train accidents, like that one the Wenzhou line last year, are cause for shady coverups and speculation that the trains are going too fast, accidents in the People’s Republic are far off the pace of the record setting countries like India, which experiences disturbances almost weekly. Even the United States — with the largest rail network on the planet — experiences more than those reported within a 1.3 billion person country. (Of course, as the attempted Wenzhou coverup highlighted, there is a question of how many malfunctions don’t get reported.)
Nonetheless, China has set its sights on building ever faster trains. And no mountains, air-conditioning challenges, or derailments are going to stop that. It’s a simple question of logistics for a country that’s enormous, especially when regional airports are prohibitively expensive. It does make you wonder though: When our current political climate is obsessed with competing with China, why has the U.S. had so much trouble building momentum for efficient high-speed trains?