Friday, 12 September 2008

The Fastest Train Service In The World

The new rail service from Beijing to Tianjin sums up everything I love about living in Asia. I had read about the service, but because of the media storm surrounding the Olympics including all the showpiece architectural projects such as the CCTV building, the Birds Nest, The Egg and of course the new T3 Airport (the best I've used aside from Changi in Singapore) I guess that this remarkable project was somewhat overshadowed.
The Purpose built new station 'Beijing South' is the same as an airport in style and appearance despite being located in the middle of one of those areas undergoing some 21st century urban regeneration. It's a bit of a pig to navigate to because of the road density in that area but on arrival it stands out like a beacon of the new Beijing. Very impressive.

Tianjin is 120 kilometres away from Beijing. It played co-host city for the soccer tournaments of the Olympics and has also been designated a special economic zone to parry the growth of Shanghai. It is also the third largest Chinese city after Beijing and Shanghai in terms of area. In short a city of 10 million plus that nobody has ever heard of. There are lots of those in China. The tickets for the journey are around 6 Euros or 60 RMB and the journey is remarkably fast. I wasn't expecting to go any faster than 250 Km/h but in the event the train topped out at 329 km/h. There is some dispute as to what defines the fastest train journey in the world but part of the equation is the regularity of service and distance between stations. There is however an amazing bit of Youtube for the fastest train journey ever over here on the French Rail service which is worth checking out.

Tianjin is a bit of an urban construction landscape with towering cranes and newly finished landmark projects. I might like living in Asia but the steroid growth of these new cities, particularly in China aren't without their victims. Usually I find that the cities are devoid of much soul, charm or character.

Who knows what his story is but I've included it to break the myth of shiny new cities. In fact I noticed on the train journey out that the primitive housing estates had been blocked off from view, probably to ensure that the Olympic guests weren't exposed to any sights of China that don't fit in with the one the Government wish to project.

Despite that, the train station for the return journey is just as splendid and modern. Taking a trip like this really makes me feel that trains are much more preferable for long journeys than by air which lost its attractiveness long before 911 took its toll on the quality for this mode of transport. 


The thing that most struck me as different from anything I've seen before on the return journey back to Beijing were the people using this state of the art new service. Anywhere else in the world I'd have expected the travellers to be similar to myself. Middle class people taking advantage of a new service and enjoying the relative luxury of travelling fast and in comfort. But what surprised me most were that the majority of Chinese travelling on the service looked like they had been yanked from the middle ages and thrust into the 21st century. That will sound elitist and snobby but it its only an observation that maybe the democracy of this type of travel opens it up to a far broader customer base than say could be expected from something like the launch of Eurostar. Maybe it's more reflective of what middle class means in China than anything else but in any event I didn't mind upgrading my ticket for the return journey and plumping for First Class (at a cost of  no more than 10 RMB) where an ice cold beer is served in a way that I could get used to. Better than Virgin no?

1 comment:

  1. I refuse to believe that there are people similar to you anywhere - let alone on trains. Welcome back mate and kudos for the obligatory Frith signature - the ethographic harassment photo.