On December 26, 2009, China’s passenger rail line with the latest technology, greatest length, and largest investment – the Wuhan-Guangzhou High-speed Railway – went into operation. The inaugural group of CRH electric multiple unit (EMU) trains for the rails have a designed speed of 350 kilometers per hour, equipped with Chinese-made “hearts” (electric traction drive system) and “brains” (train network control units). Along with the cutting-edge technology, its designer, CSR Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive Research Institute Co., Ltd. (ZELRI), attracted a spotlight.
Known as the birthplace of the Chinese electric locomotive, ZELRI is based in Tianxin Town of Hunan Province’s Zhuzhou City. ZELRI is China’s only enterprise holding independent intellectual property rights to rail electric traction drive systems and a pioneer in railway equipment manufacturing. Its original incarnation, Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive Research Institute, was established by the Chinese Ministry of Railways (MOR) in 1959.
In the 1960s, ZELRI joined hands with Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive Plant to produce the Shaoshan I locomotive, China’s first generation of electric trains for both cargo and passenger transportation on domestic railways. Since then, ZELRI has played a role in nearly every Chinese electric locomotive research and development project. In the 1990s, when AC drive systems reached a new level of development, ZELRI worked with China’s major locomotive manufacturers to promote application of the technology in a variety of rail vehicles not only including electric trains, but also diesel locomotives, large railroad maintenance machinery, engineering maintenance vehicles, EMUs, maglev trains, and light rail vehicles. So far, the technology has been utilized in tens of thousands of Chinese locomotives and even exported to Kazakhstan.
Since the turn of the 21st century, MOR has initiated a new phase of foreign technology introduction and absorption. ZELRI responded by introducing technology developed by Mitsubishi and Siemens. Thanks to an accumulation of technology over several decades, ZELRI has demonstrated the acumen not only to absorb foreign technology, but also to use it to inspire its own independent innovation. Through learning from foreign 200kph EMUs, ZELRI domestically developed several key components such as electric traction drive systems and network control units that helped enable Chinese-made EMU trains to handle 300 kilometers per hour. In 2007, China launched its sixth national rail acceleration campaign. Of the first group of 52 EMU trains that went into operation, 36 were equipped with AC drive and network control systems designed by ZELRI.