China’s enthusiasm for high-speed trains has known few bounds so far, and now it has set its sights on a grand new scheme: reviving the ancient Silk Road through a state-of-the-art high-speed rail network for both passengers and freight. The $150 billion railway would start in Xinjiang and wind 3,700 miles through 40 Asian and European countries with a total population of three billion people. Although this formidable project might sound like wishful thinking, Chinese media have reported a rather short time perspective: an initial date is scheduled for 2022, followed by the start of operational services by 2030. Despite China’s confidence, there are a number of obstacles that could prove insurmountable for the project as a whole, not to mention the reported high-speed schedule.
The project’s biggest obstacles are geopolitical discrepancies between countries, which is why Chinese President Xi Jinping brought more than 100 European leaders and representatives together in Beijing in July 2014 to launch and discuss the idea. Even with the consensus of countries, the biggest problem remains differences in track gauges within the countries concerned, which is why high-speed trains for cross-border operations are being developed that are designed to run on different gauges, a feature that will allow these trains to operate on international routes. Typically, when operations change from one gauge to another, operators are required to change train bogies or deploy a new train, both of which are time-consuming processes. However, the new high-speed trains will be equipped with gauge-changing bogies underneath the cabs, allowing the vehicle to seamlessly change its driving mode as it passes through a particular section of track with a different gauge. The railway facility is part of China’s One Road One Belt economic plan to diversify and build new land and sea routes in Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.