The photos in this article come to you with the gracious permission of Luo Chunxiao, aka @铁路小亨 on Weibo. Please do not copy or otherwise reproduce them unless you have express permission. Thank you.
There’s no word when these trains will be on the tracks yet (allow around a year at least, as they need all the test mileage to see if everything’s working great), but once they’re set loose, expect some very nice (and nice-looking, too!) trains on the Chinese rails. The new 350 km/h (217 mph) China Standard train sets, developed by CRRC Corporation (the new company formed through the merger of what used to be CNR and CSR — literally, China North Rolling Stock and China South Rolling Stock).
These trains call themselves the China Standard because not only were they built in China, but they operate in a very Chinese environment, which can be hugely different from that in foreign environments. The topography of China is a sometimes dizzying and confusing mix of sub-zero temperatures, deserts, places with lots of rain, mountains, and flatland, and quite a few lines run by coasts which are at times tormented by typhoons. Using fully foreign technology in these terrains, consequentially, is simply not an option.
Enough with the techspeak: here’s a look at the new speed demons. (All images used with kind permission from Luo Chunxiao, aka @铁路小亨 on Weibo.)
New Across the Board
- More Legroom: These are in particular more visible for Second Class passengers, but also for riders in First Class. Tech specs are 1.02 metres for Second Class are 1.16 metres for First.
- Wifi Throughout the Train: China is a bit of a relative latecomer here, as trains in Europe, amongst other places, already increasingly come equipped with wifi, but it’s good we’re able to go online at last whilst on the go.
- More Care for Special Care Passengers: In particular, those on wheelchairs will see better service thanks to reserved areas, especially in Second Class.
- Unified Seating Across Three Classes of Seating: Business Class is now exclusively at the front and back ends of the train, and consists of 10 seats (5 in each end of the train). First Class is 28 seats in total, with the rest of the train Second Class. This is not unlike, for example, most short-to-mid-distance services in the UK. All trains now carry up to 556 passengers.
- Almost Exact Same Dimensions: These new trains are now 209 metres (685 feet 8 ⅓ inches; 228 ½ yards) in length, which is just up to 4% longer than the previous generation of trains.
The Blue Trainset: Blue on the Outside, Gold on the Inside
The new blue trainset, made in Qingdao from Sifang, has a visibly gold / dark brown appearance on the inside. All seats — Business, First, and Second class — are in “pro brown” (or “tuhao gold”, if you must).
Business Class trains on these new trainsets are at the front and back ends of the train. The see-through (then made translucent) barrier between the train and the passengers is no more, though; it appeared rail crew weren’t quite that ready with people secretly peeping behind. (Plus, when you were able to see them, all you could really see was an elevated seat — not necessarily the best scenery.) Instead, the walls now come with a TV set for the two seats at the very front of the train.
First Class is in a somewhat more “lightened dark cinnamon” colour scheme. If you’ve travelled on the present-day CRH2 or CRH3 trains, this will be very familiar to you. Almost all seats line up next to a window — a very wide one, at that (but which you only see half; the other half is shared with the person in front of you (or behind you). There’s also a TV screen in the centre, to watch what’s showing, quite literally, on CRH TV.
Second Class is probably a little bit more drab: this comes in “dark cinnamon-tan” and features 3+2 seating.
All seats now come with the number of the seat as a digital panel, and things are shown in icons instead of bilingual signage.
Space is furthermore reserved for passengers with reduced mobility. There is now space for at least a couple of wheelchair in one of the Second Class carriages.
The Gold Trainset: A Festival of Colours for the Eye
The new gold trainset, made in Changchun, is more varied in its colour scheme. Gold on the outside, seating inside is a mix of colours. Business Class is the usual “dark pink” / “deep red”, and are at the ends of the trains, as usual.
First Class, though, is now, interestingly, blue, and it is a rather deep, subdued shade of dark blue that the eye can see.
Second Class is very dark blue (close to black), although lighting is considerably more visible here.
Also, there are collapsible seats that can easily be made space for wheelchairs. As with the other trainset, this one is in Second Class as well.
There are somewhat more visible innovations on the gold trainset, though, as can be seen at the Left Luggage rack. They are now secured and a securable string can be used to attach your baggage to the rack, so that nobody (well, ideally) steals it. (It will only really work, though, if the strings used are sturdy and theft-resistant!)
The seat indicator is a slight bit different: it still largely uses icons and text but there are also Chinese characters showing the availability of the seat. Here, the display basically tells you if a seat is taken (sold) or unsold. The question is if this is dynamic and updated in real-time, in the event that there are a number different riders travelling on the same seat over different distances (and indeed, if others are upgraded to better classes onboard).
All in All…
These trains are those kinds people wish got on the rails earlier, as they build upon and refine existing world-class trains. Being evolutionary for revolutionary trains, they all come with improvements for all budgets. Most important, in particular for the more established riders, is an absence of what used to be Premier Class — apparently, the idea of basically “squashing” riders together at the front of the train in a reclinable (but not lie-down) seat wasn’t working, so they upgraded it to a full Business Class part of the train.
It will be interesting how this train will be formed of specifically — it is somewhat more likely that the trains will see just one First Class carriage (as opposed to two under the Liu Zhijun years). However, the inclusion of Business Class makes HSR travel in China a serious contender to planes, and train-wide wifi looks to be another reason to choose HSR over the airliners. Also of interest will be if there will be a 16-car variant of this train to come.
There are still no firm dates as to when these trains will officially open their doors to the travelling public — about a year or so is a safe guess here at Tracking China, based on how the CRH380 trains entered service — but when they do, they will have undergone rigorous trial and be ready to safely carry passengers in style from A to B.