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China economy

Remote Chinese city hopes to board the hyperloop express after signing deal with US firm to try to build 1,220km per hour rail line

Impoverished city signs deal with Californian company that claims it can use vacuum-sealed tunnels to develop superfast maglev line

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 July, 2018, 11:43am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 July, 2018, 7:56pm

A crowdsourced US venture, which is pursuing the dream of a superfast underground railway, has signed a deal with a remote Chinese city to develop a test track there in a deal that may help advance China’s ambitions of becoming a world leader in the sector.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, which is trying to turn the hyperloop concept into reality, said on Thursday it would team up with Tongren in the southern province of Guizhou to build a new 10km test track for the high-speed transport system that it claims could reach a speed of 1,220km per hour (760mph).

The California-based enterprise is one of several ventures trying to develop a new type of transport system propelling capsules through vacuum-sealed tunnels, a concept popularised by Elon Musk, the Tesla boss.

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HyperloopTT has struck similar deals with several other countries and the construction of its first capsules under way at its innovation centre in France.

The remote city of Tongren in China’s impoverished Guizhou province will host the latest demonstration project, according to the plans published by the company and China’s state media.

The project is designed to use magnetic levitation, or maglev, rail lines – a technology already in use on two lines in Shanghai and Changsha, which have a top speed of 430km per hour.

But hyperloop advocate believes it will be possible to achieve much speeds of over 1,000km per hour – faster than many passenger aircraft – by operating in a vacuum to reduce friction.

Advanced rail transit equipment is one of the 10 hi-tech sectors that China is seeking to develop as part of its Made in China 2025 strategy.

The Chinese government hopes to develop high-speed passenger railways with a speeds of over 400km per hour and mid to high-speed maglev systems in the hope of becoming the world leader in this sector.

However, the Made in China 2025 project has been the subject of frequent US criticism in the current trade war between the two sides.

America has frequently claimed that China is using unfair means to gain access to US technology, accusations Beijing has denied, saying that all such transfers are the result of voluntary agreements with Western firms.

Washington is expected to levy additional 25 per cent tariffs on a further US$16 billion of Chinese goods, which “contribute to or benefit from the Made in China 2025 industry policy”, after it imposed 25 per cent tariffs on the first batch of US$34 billion worth of goods.

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The Tongren government will contribute 50 per cent of the funding for the new project, the China News Service, an official news agency, reported.

The local government has promised to provide land and to obtain all necessary approval for the project, while HyperloopTT agreed to provide the technology, engineering expertise, and essential equipment, the news agency added.

Neither side has provided an investment figure or a timetable for the project.

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China Railway Maglev Transportation Investment and Construction Co and China Railway Fifth Survey and Design Institute Group, the two subsidiaries of China Railway Construction Corp, a state-owned enterprise, will participate in the project as well.

China Railway Maglev said in a statement on its website that China and Hyperloop TT would seek to prolong the line’s use for “commercial operations” if the 10km test track proved successful.

“China leads the world in the amount of high-speed rail constructed so far, and now they are looking for a more efficient high-speed solution in hyperloop,” Bibop Gresta, the chairman of Hyperloop TT, said in a press release.

“We have spent the past few years finding the right partners to work with in China and now, with a strong base network of relationships in place, we are ready to begin work to create the system,” he added.

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Lu Yongzheng, a vice governor of Guizhou, and Chen Changxu, the Communist Party chief of Tongren, were among a group of local government leaders meeting Gresta at a signing ceremony in Guiyang, the provincial capital on Thursday.

China has about two thirds of the world’s high-speed railway lines with 25,000km of track as of the end of 2017. The highest speed on its intercity lines is currently 350km per hour.

State-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp (CASIC), a major aerospace company, is also looking to pioneer the next generation of high-speed train technology in China, and last year announced a similar hyperloop project in the city of Wuhan.

Additional reporting by AFP