It is no secret that the western world, particularly the United States, has lagged behind in terms of public transportation. While Europe as a whole has reasonably accessible infrastructure, particularly for low-cost rail, the technology is simply outdated in a world where autonomous cars are just on the horizon. Japan has typically led the world in high tech public transportation, but China has recently entered the arena with their own futuristic solution to mass public transportation.
This week, China launched a trackless electric train that is being touted as the world’s first smart train. With a population of nearly one and a half billion, the country is dependent upon mass transportation solutions and this latest model seems well equipped to the task. Called the Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit, or ART for short, the vehicle can reach speeds of 70kmh, or around 43 miles per hour. Each train comes equipped with three carriages that can carry a total of 300 passengers between them. The new train was first unveiled in June of 2017 and was designed by the CRRC Corporation, a state-owned enterprise.
The train is said to be a hybrid lying somewhere between a bus and a tram and runs along a roughly 10 foot-wide virtual “track” delineated by dotted lines painted across roadways, since physical rails are unnecessary. The electric train has an impressive battery, able to fully charge in as little as 10 minutes. After a charge, it can subsequently operate for a distance of roughly 15 miles, or 25 km, making it perfect for city transport or, once more infrastructure like widespread charging stations are in place, for longer journeys across the country and beyond. The train is also much cheaper than regular subways and train systems, costing the government about 1/5 the investment price of older transportation systems.
For those concerned about safety, the automated train has a number of on-board sensors that collect data on pavement conditions and also track travel information. Overall, the system is a good fit for China, especially because its use of electricity will not contribute to the country’s notorious pollution issue, a problem complicated by cars and other modes of transportation that use fossil fuels. It will be some time, however, before the new train spreads to other parts of the country. For the time being, the train is set to operate for tests in Zhuzhou, a mid-sized city located in China’s eastern Hunan Province.