Fast as a Bullet?

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Bullet train picture - part of China's high-speed rail system

The CRH 380 model (pictured at the CSR Qingdao Sifang train factory) is the star of the Chinese high-speed rail fleet-a program moving very quickly, despite occasional safety concerns, to connect China's population centers.

Some Chinese trains can reach cruising speeds of 217 miles (350 kilometers) an hour—and when pushed to top speed can exceed 300 miles (482 kilometers) an hour.

Such advances may come at a cost. Development of China's high-speed rail has been wrought with unanswered questions about safety as well as the origins of China's quickly attained technology.

For instance, Chinese executives who run the country's rail development have been accused of pushing the though rural areas with little thought to the affected communities. But some Chinese technocrats see trains like the 380 as symbols of how China can "leapfrog" Western countries.

Chinese farm picture - near China's high-speed rail

Farms Taking a Hit

Farms in the countryside between China's biggest cities have seen the largest impacts of rail construction. When engineers connect two cities, the straight line between them is developed for tracking and tunnels.

Farmer Ye Shaoguang (not pictured) said that the rail system shows China's industrial heft. But his mother-in-law worries that the vibrations from nearby explosions could destroy their house.

Guangzhou South Station picture - part of China high-speed rail system

Guangzhou South Station

Guangzhou South Station opened in 2010 to help shuttle travelers to the northern city of Wuhan. Along the route, trains can reach 220 miles (354 kilometers) an hour.

In the case of Guangzhou, train travel is fast, but not always convenient. The station is an hour from town, while the airport is nearly half that distance.

Chinese factory workers picture - assembling a high-speed train

Assembling the Train

Factory workers assemble the superfast 380A train model at Qingdao Sifang Locomotive and Rolling Stock Company, the country's largest and oldest train manufacturer. The factory employs 8,000 people.

While some have charged that technology for the 380A and other models was pirated from the West and Japan, officials deny the charge. Yet the quickness of China's development has cast some doubt on the origins of Chinese leaps in technological know-how.

Chinese steam locomotives picture

Hauling Coal

As China's rail technology grows, coal remains a dominant industry in China.

While electric trains shuttle passengers between large cities, steam locomotives like the ones above are still used to haul coal to power plants that generate the electricity.

Chinese steam locomotive picture

Packed Train

Fast trains are for the elite, but the working classes in China still use steam locomotives to travel between smaller cities.

The Jiayang steam train (pictured), a relic from the 1950s, is one of the last regularly operating passenger steam trains in China.

The train connects six villages along the Bajiao Valley in Sichuan Province, a distance of only 14 miles (23 kilometers). The train operates four trips a day, each of them crowded, a conductor told National Geographic reporter Ian Johnson.

Chinese steam locomotive picture

Letting Off Some Steam

High-speed electric trains are expected to eventually replace slower steam locomotives like those pictured here in the Fuxing region of China. Many regions still use the steam trains to shuttle coal and coal waste from mines to power plants, and then to ash fields.

Chinese high-speed train picture

Heading Home

Aboard a high-speed train to Zhengzhou, groups of students head back to school in September after the summer break.

The back-to-school period is the second busiest travel time in China, behind the annual Chinese New Year celebrations in the spring, when migrant workers traditionally return home.

Chinese high-speed train picture

Just a Blur

Leaving stations, high-speed Chinese trains can quickly accelerate to more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) an hour.


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