Riding the Wu-Guang HSR

First I'd like to apologise for my absence for the last two weeks. I did not leave any information on where I was or what I was doing because I wasn't sure if I would have a chance to do collect some rail-related information. I'm back now, and here's what I've got...

During my two-week visit in Hong Kong and the People's Republic of China, I have had the fortune to ride the entire Wuhan-Guangzhou High Speed Rail from Guangzhou South to Wuhan. It was also my first time to ride a conventional high-speed train that ran faster than 125 mph (201 km/h). I booked a second class coach seat on Train G1002, one of the few limited-stop express trains on the Wu-Guang HSR. As of the last timetable revision on 1 July 2010, trains on the Wu-Guang have been split up into 8-car half-sets and frequency have been doubled to every 11-15 minutes. Non-stop trains  were replaced by trains with one intermediate stop at Changsha South, and the G1002 was one of them.

Guangzhou South Railway Station

There are two kinds of tickets used on Chinese HSR lines, the blue contactless smart card ticket and the legacy pink paper ticket seen on regular rail lines. I obtained my ticket from a ticket agent and it was a pink paper ticket. The ticket cost 490 Yuan, around $75 Canadian. Online booking is not available on the Chinese Railways, you must purchase them at a station or ticket agent and tickets are only allowed to be purchased 10 days in advance from departure date. Although the physical length of the Wu-Guang mainline is only 968 km (601 mi.), for ticketing purposes the distance is shown as 1,069 km (664 mi.), which is the length of the existing mix-running railway line between Wuhan and Guangzhou. Tickets are checked at the boarding gate (imagine the station gates at a metro station) at the stations prior to departure where the IC Card tickets are scanned and paper pickets are manually punched by station staff.

Waiting lounge of the station is above the track level

Although the Wu-Guang HSR has been open to revenue service since December 2009, most of the station infrastructure and connecting services are still under construction. Guangzhou South Station was about half complete as of October, with the metro connection to the city just opened, and a couple of convenience stores and one fast food restaurant setup in the station concourse. On the other end of the line, most of the ground level of Wuhan Station was still blocked off and the connecting metro to the city and other railway stations was still under construction. Not all of the planned stations en route were open either.

Train shed and platforms-tracks are elevated

Like other railway lines in China, the Wu-Guang HSR is owned by the Chinese Ministry of Railways. It is operated jointly by Guangzhou Railway Bureau and Wuhan Railway Bureau. The Guangzhou Bureau uses the CRH3C rolling stock (Siemens Velaro C) and the Wuhan Bureau uses CRH2C (derived from Kawasaki E2-1000). The G1002 is operated by the Guangzhou Bureau (G actually is the first letter of Chinese phonic Gao, the first character in the word Gao Su or High Speed).

As I mentioned above, the CRH3C is designed by Siemens. This was the model that made a record run of 394.3 km/h (245.0 mph) unmodified on the Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Railway in June, 2008. It belongs to the Velaro family of high-speed EMUs based on the DB (Deutsche Bahn) ICE3 and looks almost identical to the ICE3. Three of the 80 sets ordered were assembled by Siemens in Germany and the rest were assembled by the stated-owned CNR Tangshan Railway Vehicle Co. Ltd. in Tangshan, Heibei Province. The Velaro C is widened to accommodate 5 second class seats in a row. The seats used in the Velaro C are however Japanese Shinkansen-style. They can be rotated to face the direction of travel. These seats are not very wide but there is plenty of legroom. There is a tray table on the back of each seat and a seat pocket. Power adapters and wi-fi are not available at the moment (at least not second class), and onboard entertainment consists of the train window if you are lucky enough to get a window seat and a railway-published magazine in the seat pocket. All high-speed trains are non-smoking and on either end of the carriages there are toilet facilities, large luggage compartments, and overhead information displays. At the very ends of the CRH3C, there are 6 panoramic sightseeing seats (2 rows of 3 seats) on each end (sold as special class seats) directly behind the control cabs separated by transparent glass walls. Only tickets for seats at the rear end are being sold at the moment. On all Wu-Guang trains, Car 1 faces Guangzhou and Car 8 or 16 faces Wuhan. There is a bistro section in one of the carriages in each train which I have not visited, food and drinks are also sold on trolleys. HSR passengers are entitled a small bottle of spring water free of charge at departure stations.

Second Class coach cabin of the CRH3C

Information display with speed (336 km/h at the time this photo was taken)

The G1002 left Guangzhou South at 09:00 and had a scheduled intermediate stop at Changsha South at 11:02 for 2 minutes. Acceleration of the train was rapid; it was doing well above 200 km/h (125 mph) in almost no time. There is quite some buffer in the schedules on the Wu-Guang and trains do not have to travel at their maximum revenue speed of 350 km/h (217 mph). The G1002 I was on travelled at around 335 km/h (208 mph) most of the time and hit 348 km/h (216 mph) for a few seconds between Changsha South and Wuhan. After 3 hours and 15 minutes, at 12:15, the train pulled into Wuhan Station a minute early, a distance of 968 km (601 mi.) north of Guangzhou South.

Final arrival at Wuhan Station

The ride on the Wu-Guang HSR was quite smooth and the cabin was relatively quiet, but it felt very different from my normal North American train rides. There were many tunnels in order to keep the line straight and the pressure in the cabin kept rapidly changing, and when the train was finally out of the tunnels the scenes just flew by before I could thoroughly enjoy and appreciate them. High speed trains sure are exciting, but on a trip for pure leisure, I think I still prefer the good ol' Via Rail and Amtrak.


Anonymous said…
Still, imagine one of these between Calgary and Edmonton! Especially if they managed to run them between the downtown cores...

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