Monday, September 3, 2012

Chinese HSR line needs rebuilding before it opens

Attempt at cost limitation results in higher costs

Part of the newly built Harbin-Dalian high speed railroad connecting Northeast China's Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning provinces is now facing reconstruction due to roadbed deformation, an expert said on Tuesday.
Wang Mengshu, chief engineer of the China Railway Tunnel Group and academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told the Global Times that certain parts of the railroad were not initially designed properly.
"In regions where the temperature varies greatly around the year, frost heaving becomes a major problem in construction," said Wang. "Designers need to pay extra attention to the amount of water in the roadbed. Too little water reduces roadbed strength, while too much water could cause deformation."
Wang said a certain part of the Harbin-Dalian line, the first of its kind in Northeast China, was designed to avoid building tunnels for the purpose of reducing cost, causing the railroad to travel through ravines where rain water can easily accumulate and damage the roadbed.
An anonymous expert from the Ministry of Railways made similar comments and added that 70 percent of the ballastless track, a type of track specially required by high speed lines, was built on a viaduct to help drain water. Some 20 percent of the track built directly on the ground roadbed has seen different levels of deformation, reported Economy & Nation Weekly on Sunday. 
The Harbin-Dalian high speed railroad is currently the northernmost high speed line in China with temperatures dropping to as low as -40 C in the area.
The railroad line is 904 kilometers long and cost 92.3 billion yuan ($14.51 billion). Construction started in August 2007 and was completed on December 28, 2010, according to Xinhua.
A previous report from the Heilongjiang-based news portal said the railroad was expected to open for operation by the end of this year. However, an employee from the Harbin-Dalian High Speed Railroad Company told the Global Times that the date is not yet known. 
While there have been significant issues with Chinese industry in the past, including the astoundingly poor operational issues after signal failure that led to their fatal high speed train crash, I wouldn't necessarily place this problem in the same category. It is somewhat questionable that an engineering failure in the design of the route itself could be made to this degree, encompassing about 55 route-kilometers, but it is within the realm of possibility that the engineers were either unfamiliar with the degree to which the problem existed in this area, it was an unforeseen consequence of the construction itself, or that it was foreseen and overruled by higher ups for political reasons.

On a tangential note, I discovered while writing this that public transit information for intercity train travel is available for China on Google Maps, which was rather surprising, especially given that it is not yet available for many European countries. Oddly, it does not appear to include high speed trains however.

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