An up-close photo of the driving cabs of three Chinese high-speed trains parked at a station in Beijing. Photo: Xinhua
An up-close photo of the driving cabs of three Chinese high-speed trains parked at a station in Beijing. Photo: Xinhua

Beijing wants automated bullet trains to be the backbone of its public transport to shuttle athletes, spectators and journalists among numerous venues during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

But don’t mistake them for the rubber-tired automated people movers running beneath terminals at some airports. The legion of futuristic trains for the mega-event will have all the drawing cards of today’s high-speed rolling stock that are roaming along China’s railway network, but will require no drivers.

China Railway High-speed (CHR) trains in the South Railway Station in Beijing. Photo: iStock

The next generation of automated bullet trains are part of the 60 billion yuan (US$9.5 billion), 174-kilometer high-speed rail link between Beijing and Zhangjiakou in neighboring Hebei province, on which trains will gallop at up to 350km/h to whirl passengers from the capital city to the ski resort within half an hour.

The Beijing-Zhangjiakou express link is one of the key projects earmarked for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Photo: Xinhua

Xinhua reports that from acceleration to cruising to decelerating to approach a station, the entire process could be done with just a click of a button from the railway’s remote-control centre.

Intercity through trains in the well-off Pearl River Delta in southern China’s Guangdong province are already partially automated: A hands-off driver still mans the cab of a train but will only take over control in an emergency or to deal with delays.

Meanwhile, the South Island Line (above) of Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway, inaugurated in 2016 to link the Admiralty area of the city center with the Southern district, is one of the first metro lines in the Asia-Pacific region to have attained Grade of Automation 4 certification under the five-tier train-automation hierarchy compiled by the International Association of Public Transport.

GoA 4 refers to unattended train operation where starting and stopping, operation of doors and handling of emergencies are fully automated without any on-train staff.

The Beijing-Zhangjiakou express rail link is set to become the world’s first high-speed railway designed and built around the GoA 4 specifications.