New service launches ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022, with trains making the 108-mile trip from the capital to ski slopes in only 45 minutes
Antonia Wilson – The Guardian
The new high-speed train that connects Beijing and Zhangjiakou, China. Photograph: Chine Nouvelle/Sipa/Rex
A new driverless bullet train connecting the Chinese cities of Beijing and Zhangjiakou is capable of reaching a top speed of up to 217mph (350km/h), making it the world’s fastest autonomous train in operation.
The new service, launched in the build-up to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic games, will reduce travel time between the capital and Zhangjiakou, which will stage most of the skiing events, from three hours to less than one. Some trains will complete the 108-mile routein 45 minutes. The original Beijing-Zhangjiakou line opened in 1909, when the same journey took around eight hours.
The trains will start and stop at stations automatically to a precise timetable, and change speed depending on limits between stations. However, a monitoring attendant will still be on board in case of emergencies.
The line, also known as the Jingzhang intercity railway, took four years to complete and has 10 stations, including Badaling Changcheng, for access to the Great Wall of China. The first train began operating on 30 December, running from Beijing to Taizicheng, which will also hold some Olympic skiing events and is the closet station to the Olympic village.
Cabins on the “smart” autonomous trains have large storage areas for winter sports equipment, seats with 5G touchscreen control panels, intelligent lighting, thousands of real-time safety sensors and removable seats for passengers in wheelchairs. Facial-recognition technology and robots will be used in stations to assist with directions, luggage and paperless check-in.
Zhangjiakou, in the northern Hebei province, will host snowboarding, freestyle skiing, cross-country skiing, and ski jumping at the Games. Another major Olympic host on the new line is Yanqing, where alpine skiing, bobsleigh, skeleton and luge events will take place. Skating, curling, ice-hockey and freestyle skiing will be held in the capital.
China’s vast high-speed rail network spans almost 22,000 miles and includes the fastest train in commercial operation, the Shanghai Maglev, capable of reaching a speed of 268mph.
“While we argue about HS2, China has created a nationwide high-speed network,” says rail expert Mark Smith of website the Man in Seat 61 website. “China’s high-speed lines are ruthlessly efficient – once booked, a swipe of your ID card or passport at the ticket gates is all you need to travel,”
As the official high-speed train booking site (12306 China Railway) can be used only by Chinese nationals, Smith recommends using china-diy-travel.com to book: it is due to list the new route shortly. In the meantime, he suggests trip.com as an alternative, which currently lists prices from around £9 one way.
Smith also recommends a slower scenic train as an option one-way: “You may prefer to return on one of the classic ‘S2’ trains on the Imperial Peking-Kalgan Railway, built in 1905-1909 and engineered by the father of Chinese Railways, Zhan Tianyou. The new high-speed line goes underground in the vicinity of the Great Wall, while the classic route goes overground along the Guan valley, with great views of the Wall on the way.”