One of the things I like to do in China is to take a train, the high speed G train (高速动车组列车, Gāosù dòngchē, or simply Gāotie). I took one such from Wuhan to Nanjing and back. Amazingly, the train sustained a speed of 247 Kilometers an hour for a substantial portion of its 500 plus kilometer route. The result is that the two and a half hour run easily beats a car or a plane for its convenience. From the first time I took a Gao train, I’ve been impressed by its stability: a bottle of water set on a table in front of you barely has ripples on its surface.
In the early 90s, when China started developing its own high speed trains, the average speeds of Chinese trains were 48 Kilometers an hour; as a result cars and flights had begun to carry larger fractions of long-distance traffic. But now, with the fast trains, everything’s changed. There are no direct flights between Wuhan and Nanjing, for example. With over two thirds of the world’s fast trains, Gaotie is China’s contribution to green travel.
In keeping with this marvelous achievement, the new train stations are monumental (see the entrance to the Nanjing South station in the photo above). Since I planned my travel to maximize my time in Nanjing, I found it very convenient to find a marketplace inside the station where I could buy dinner before getting on to the train.
I hadn’t succeeded in buying train tickets from Wuhan to Nanjing and back on the internet before coming to China, so I decided to go and buy them at the station. Immediately after checking into my hotel, I took the subway and reached the station. This turns out to be very convenient: subway ticket vending machines, like ATMs, in China can be set to English before you start. And of course, the subway is the fastest way to get from anywhere to a railway station.
The arch over the entrance
The main concourse
Wuhan railway station
Passengers walk in
The subway station
Wuhan’s new railway station was built in 2009 to serve the high-speed trains (G trains, 高速动车组列车, Gāosù dòngchē) on the Beijing-Guangzhou-Hong Kong and the Shanghai-Wuhan-Chengdu lines. Since these run on special tracks which allow speeds up to 350 Km/hour, these networks are newly built, and avoid older tracks and stations.
The 19th century was a great time for railways, as you can see even now if you go to some of the world’s iconic old railway stations: Gare (now Musee) d’Orsay in Paris or the Sirkeci Garı in Istanbul. Wuhan’s railway station, designed by the French company AREP, could become one of the iconic structures of the 21st century revival of railways. The sinusoidal roof is supposed to resemble a crane’s wings. The built up area with its third of a million square meters, can sustain a significantly expanded service in future. When I came back a week later to take the train, I found the boarding process very convenient.