China developing 400km/h bullet train that can run on any gauge track

China is working on a bullet train that can adjust its wheels to run on different track gauges and develop a top speed of 400km/h – significantly faster than high-speed trains such as Japan’s Shinkansen, which have a top speed of 320km/h.

Jia Limin, a professor at Beijing Jiaotong University and head of China’s high-speed rail innovation programme, told the China Daily newspaper: "The train will have wheels that can be adjusted to fit various gauges on other countries’ tracks."

The professor, who was speaking in Beijing on the sidelines of the 12th Five-Year Plan Technology and Innovation Achievements Exhibition, added that the train would make its international debut on the 770km Moscow-Kazan high-speed line in Russia.

This line is being developed as a 400km/h track, with the help of a $5.2bn investment from Beijing.

Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, commented in September last year that this project was expected to cost a total of 1 trillion roubles, or $15.6bn.

Jia said China had begun to test an ultrafast train that would have a top speed of 600km/h. A prototype is being manufactured by CRRC Qingdao Sifang, a subsidiary of China Railway Rolling Stock, in Shandong province.

The model is being used to test emerging technologies such as advanced materials. Jia added that so far China had been able to design trains that could reach a speed of 500km/h.

It is likely that for much international travel, the ability of the train to change its wheel base will save as much time as its more powerful engine, as breaks of gauge are a serious obstacle to creating a unified rail system in Asia.

Most track in the former Soviet states and India are broad gauge, whereas China, Iran, Turkey and Europe are almost entirely standard gauge. Indian and Pakistani tracks are 1,676mm and the much of Southeast Asia is 1,000mm.

It has been agreed in principle to extend the broad gauge Moscow-Kazan link to Beijing. A train travelling at 400km/h would be able theoretically to cover the distance between Moscow and Beijing in less than a day.

Photograph: The CRH2 is the present workhorse of China’s high-speed system (Wikimedia Commons)

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  1. Gauge changing bogies are nothing new, between two different closely aligned gauges (e.g. 1435 mm to 1520 mm), but I am highly sceptical that it is possible to develop a single bogie that can change gauge across the whole spectrum of gauges, from 1000 mm to 1676 mm. The bogie frame would need to be extremely narrow and the unsupported axle on the widest gauge would just be too extreme…. unless of course the bogie frame had an adjustment in the width, to follow the change in gauge, enabling the axle bearings to stay close to the wheel pan.

    In any event, whilst cost comes down as volume goes up, the market for such an infinitely variable gauge bogie would be very small (how many people really want to travel from Delhi to St Petersburg without changing train?) and I seriously doubt that this will go very far, unless it’s another vanity project for the Chinese.

  2. It is not logical to include the narrow, small 1000 mm gauge when considering the larger and wider gauges. This narrow gauge appears doomed to extinction, as it does not adapt well to higher speeds or heavier loads. The high speed routes now being planned or constructed between China and Singapore will be standard gauge, and this will promote the eventual change of gauge to standard throughout Southeast Asia. Primary objectives now should be to complete the east-west route between Ho Chi Min City and India, as well as a high-speed Beijing-Delhi route. Cambodia has to be persuaded to come out of their lethargy and aggressively join in building the Trans-Asian Rail Network.

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