China has started trial runs of the world’s first high-speed railway line built to withstand extreme cold weather.
Using a test train travelling at a top speed of 300km/h, the 921km trial from Dalian in Liaoning province to Harbin, capital city of Heilongiang, took three hours eight minutes, just over one-third of the nine-hour journey time on the conventional train.
The CRH3803 train built by China Northern Railways is designed to have a top speed of 350km/h but is expected to travel at a maximum 300km/h when the service is launched in December.
Trains will make 24 stops along the line and connect 10 major cities in Northeast China: Changchun, Tieling, Shenyang, Dalian, Anshan, Fushun, Jilin, Qigihar, Mudanjiang and Harbin.
The service, when it starts, is expected to boost tourism in Harbin, which is famous for its ice sculpture festival.
Construction of the line started in June 2008 and took four years to complete. It is the first high-speed line in the world designed for high altitude freezing temperatures.
A Harbin Railway Bureau publicity official, Liu Shen, explained that Northeast China’s freezing temperatures could be a serious threat to the roadbed and rail line.
Liu said ice is also another threat as it could disrupt the power supply and the signalling system should the temperature fall below -39°C, but precautionary measures have been taken to ensure that snow and ice do not build up on the track
“Safety of the track, trains and people have to be ensured as temperatures during winter pose a serious challenge to the operations,” Liu noted.
Harbin Institute of Technology researched methods of high-speed railway line construction used in cold regions in Germany and north Japan.
China aims to have a 40,000km-long high-speed network operating by the end of 2015 covering most major cities with a population of more than 500,000.
According to the Ministry of Railways in Beijing, China currently has 15,656km in operation.
From 2015, as more high-speed rail lines are put into operation, conventional tracks will be gradually converted for dedicated freight operations.