Capable of running at 400km/hr, innovative train poses challenge to Western rivals
○ The debut of next-generation Fuxing bullet trains symbolizes that the shadow cast by the fatal 2011 Wenzhou crash has been dispelled.
○ The new trains, which were totally domestically developed, also mark a milestone in the country's high speed rail exports and its companies' competiveness with the West.
○ However political challenges still pose road blocks to Chinese technology being exported abroad.
Passengers on the brand-new high-speed Fuxing train - whose name literally means renaissance - which has started running between Beijing and Shanghai took to social media to rave about their experience.
The Fuxings are the latest "China Standard" bullet trains, completely designed and manufactured in China, capable of running at 400 kilometers per hour.
But their speed is capped at a mere 300 kilometers, as is the speed of the older trains on the line, which has disappointed many.
These restrictions were implemented after the 2011 Wenzhou bullet train crash killed 40 and injured around 200, following a nationwide chorus of safety concerns.
Several political advisers have proposed increasing the speeds in recent years, but in vain. However some believe that the caps may be lifted for the Fuxings.
"I'm sure the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail line speed limit will be raised to 350 kilometers soon," Sun Zhang, a railway expert and professor at Shanghai's Tongji University, told the Global Times. "The Fuxing series will gradually replace the Hexie (harmony) bullet trains when they retire after an around 30-year life span."
However, the major significance of the Fuxings lies not in their speed, but in their standardization, Sun noted.
Ji Jialun, professor at the School of Traffic and Transportation, Beijing Jiaotong University, echoed Sun's opinion, saying the totally-homegrown Fuxing will mark a milestone in the export of Chinese high-speed rail (HSR) technology
"It's a landmark of the change from mix-blood to pureblood, and it will be no longer controversial for China to export our technology," Ji commented to the Global Times.
Blow to development
China first got HSR on April 18, 2007 when the country started running Hexie trains - based on Japanese, German and French technology - on upgraded rail lines at up to 250 kilometers per hour.
Based on technologies purchased and absorbed from foreign countries, China rapidly expanded its HSR network and was soon competing for projects abroad.
However, the fatal Wenzhou crash put a sudden brake on progress. The incident, caused by a signal failure after a lightning strike, ignited a backlash against HSR. Investment and expansion across the country was virtually suspended.
"Construction of many railways was affected. Some projects were interrupted due to a lack of funds, some were postponed. The government also stopped approving new projects. The situation lasted about two years," recalled Li Bo, an employee of a survey and design institute affiliated with the China Railway Construction Corporation in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province.
"Our workloads dropped sharply. There was only one survey and design project for a coal-fired railway in the whole year," Li told the Global Times.
China's efforts to build railways abroad were also affected.
"I don't rule out the idea that some Western rivals magnified the incident, fanned the flames and smeared Chinese technologies," Mei Xinyu, an associate researcher at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, told the Global Times.