High Speed Rail Still is the Way To Go

Here’s the thing: if you thought high speed rail has “died” in China after the Wenzhou crash, you were wrong. They did have a chance to “die” if speeds on 350 km/h lines were adjusted down to 250 km/h for regular services, but there was enough pressure on the rail authorities so that speeds were kept high — 300 km/h for the moment.

In fact, at speeds over 300 km/h, it becomes a tad too fast for some. In actual fact, many trains on these lines run over the limit (even if just by a bit, like, say, 313 km/h). And you’re not condemned to watching the world go by outside your window. Just close the window shade and slumber back in your seat, especially if you’re in Business Class near the front of the train.

Some time back, I decided to cancel my “rail limit” ban, which was instituted right after Wenzhou. I bring in a (very) hefty CNY 10,000+ every year to the Chinese railways, and that’s “just” me. We are (purposefully) ignoring a wife here as well. Our new family brings in nearly CNY 20,000 to the rails every year. The rail ban would be a big impact — I did “only” 17 legs this year during the ban. (In 2010, 44 legs were registered in the same time.) So to that effect, the “rail limit” ban was pretty effective. It also triggered off a series of restrictive rail policies nationwide: Chinese HSR lay in ruins as works sites saw workers go home or the more angry ones mount a protest. The credibility and popularity of the person in charge of the mainland Chinese government organisation responsible for railway transportation on a nationwide scale, Sheng Guangzu, tanked. This was a classic case of both the butterfly effect and the domino effect.

About a few weeks back, though, the Chinese government decided to turn its attention to HSR again. I was sceptical because of the presence of Sheng Guangzu, who not only wasn’t supportive of HSR, but started clamping down on the whole thing. (Here, I want to make it clear that he gets no support from me for his tactics only; whether or not Sheng is a good guy or a bad guy is another thing altogether.)

But then the authorities showed very clear signs that they weren’t going to let go of HSR. I choose HSR because the maximum delay there is an hour — and you’ll end up in the press anyway because trains are supposed to be on time — all the time.

The mass media in China is predominantly anti-HSR, and that’s the thing: like the Mac in its olden and un-golden days, these critics just don’t get it. They never knew that for as little as about CNY 50, you can have the freedom to ride (even if for a short distance) in a seat that folds out like a bed. These guys are clueless about how much we’re saving the planet when we zip at speeds to the tone of 300 km/h and counting. And talk about “human rights”: you get more violations of these in the air (bad stewardesses and “flip-back-half-the-way” airline companies) than you get on the rails.

Guess what? I’m nixing the rail travel limits and am headed straight back to the rails. If I’m travelling a mileage within 1,500 km, I’ll do rail. For anything more than that, it’s still rail if there is an HSR option. Air is OK but only for long-haul on lines without an HSR option. This travel policy is good for Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao.

China’s HSR won’t die. It’s got me (and my wife). We’ve happily converted to rail. Now I just have to buy her Business Class tickets for our trip to Tianjin (coming soon!)…

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