China is edging into the elite world club of high-speed train operators with the month-long trial of its latest service between Beijing and the northern city of Tianjin on July 1.
A China Railway High-speed (CRH) train hit a record speed of 394.3 km per hour (kmph) in a trial run on June 24.
It was about half of a commercial airliner's cruising speed, with a per unit energy consumption of just one sixth that of a private car.
"This shows that China has joined the elite world club after Japan, France and Germany as the fourth country capable of turning out high speed trains," said Wang Zhijian, deputy general manager of Beijing-Tianjin Inter-City Railway Co.
The 115-km trip from Beijing South railway station to Tianjin railway station took 27 minutes, with one-minute stops at Yizhuang and Wuqing stations.
Previously, China's fastest self-developed trains ran at a service speed of up to 250 kmh. Those trains, introduced in April 2007, served the Beijing-Harbin, Beijing-Shanghai and Beijing-Guangzhou routes.
The Beijing-Tianjin passenger line, China's first world-class express inter-city railway, is scheduled to go into operation on Aug 1, a week before the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games.
"The high-speed trains have been a milestone in the history of China's railway development," said President Hu Jintao in an inspection tour on June 25.
In the 10 years from April 1997 to April 2007, Chinese railways had raised the maximum speed six times, in line with the Medium and Long-Term Plan of Railway Network, approved by the State Council, China's cabinet, in January 2004.
The plan stipulated that China will construct 12,000 km of special track lines for passenger trains running at 200 kmh or more by 2020.
As a pilot project of China's planned high-speed rail network, the country's first high-standard passenger rail has overcome crucial technological problems, including concrete-bed rail tracks, express rail roadbeds, bridges, and environment protection requirements.
"All these achievements are done on the basis of absorbing foreign advanced technologies and making independent innovations," said Wang Zhijian.
Unlike traditional rails laid on a road metal, the Beijing-Tianjin line has adopted the concrete-bed rail track technology widely used in Japan and Germany.
Whereas ordinary tracks need frequent maintenance, lines built on concrete foundations are more stable and require little maintenance, said Hu Jian, chief engineer of the inter-city rail project, although construction costs are slightly higher. The service life of concrete-bed rail tracks can reach 60 years.
High technologies were used to observe and prevent sedimentation of roadbeds and bridges on soft soil and unstable ground.
To ensure safe operation of the 350 kmh trains, roadbeds must not move more than 1.5cm and bridges no more than 2cm. Engineers have detected "zero" sedimentation that is attributed to the independently developed CFG pier foundation technology, said Fan Chengguo, field operation manager of the project.
To ensure trains running safely at full speed, engineers applied the country's self-developed and most advanced 32-meter-long box girder, said Fan.
One such hyper-large girder weighed 900 tons, nine times heavier than a girder traditionally applied to build railway bridges.
Nine tenths of the railway is built on bridges, which are 6 to 10 meters above the ground, or the height of a three-storey building, to save land and ensure safety of passersby.
Meanwhile, the 1,318-km Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway, on which construction began in January, is expected to be finished in five years.
With an estimated investment of 160 billion yuan (23.3 billion U.S. dollars), it would be the largest and most expensive engineering project in the country.
It would cut travel time between the Chinese capital and the country's leading financial hub from around 10 hours to about five hours, doubling the existing passenger capacity to 160 million passengers annually.