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)