Japan vying to be China’s choice for high-tech railway

China has yet to decide which country’s technology it will adopt for a planned new high-speed rail system between Beijing and Shanghai, and hopes to have more exchanges of technology and experts on the subject with Japan, an executive member of China’s Ministry of Railways said recently.

“Of course, we think that Japan has great technology for shinkansen, but we have not yet decided which technology we will adopt in the future,” said Zhou Yimin, deputy chief engineer of China’s Ministry of Railways and deputy director of the Preappraisal Study Office of the Beijing-Shanghai High Speed Railway Line.

The world’s leaders in high-speed rail systems — Japan, France and Germany — are currently engaged in a race to supply the necessary technology for China’s planned 1,310-km-long, high-speed line linking Beijing and Shanghai. Japan, which lost to France’s TGV in a similar race to supply South Korea with a high-speed rail system, strongly hopes to win this time.

Zhou was in Japan to attend an international conference on high-speed railways in Okayama sponsored by West Japan Railway Co. and Central Japan Railway Co. He and other foreign participants of the conference rode on JR West’s new 500-series Nozomi Shinkansen during a test run. At the 1996 session of China’s National People’s Congress, Premier Li Peng indicated that China will launch a high-speed railway project between Beijing and Shanghai by 2010, he said. “The Chinese government values this project,” he said in a recent interview with The Japan Times.

China is aiming to operate the high-speed train at 250 kph at an initial stage and later at 350 kph to reduce the travel time between the two cities to six or seven hours. Traveling the same route by a regular train now takes 17 hours. For the past few years, Japan has expressed much interest in China’s high-speed railway project, and experts and technology have often been exchanged between the two nations, Li said. “Before, Chinese experts did not understand Japan’s shinkansen technology well, but now we have deepened our understanding of it,” he said.

Japan argues that its “motor coach train” system has more acceleration and deceleration power than its competitors because each train car is run on an individual electric motor. European high-speed trains and China’s regular trains operate with locomotive engines located only in the first and last cars.

Japan has already expressed a readiness to provide yen loans to China to help finance the railway project if China decides to adopt Japan’s shinkansen technology.