Back in 2007, Shell China’s Bitumen team supplied modified emulsion bitumen for China’s first high-speed railway – the Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Line. Shell China Bitumen Sales General Manager Zhang Zhonghua was personally involved in the project. He recalls: “At that time, Shell had never supplied emulsified bitumen to a railway anywhere in the world, let alone high-speed rail. It was also the first time for railway constructors in China to add bitumen into the slurry, which resulted in some  technical difficulties.

“The customer turned to us because of our reputation for quality products and technology. They said to us, ‘If Shell cannot provide the bitumen we need, who else can?’ Well, we thought, let’s roll up sleeves and get it done!”

Working closely with its technical partners through rounds of tests and trial production, Shell eventually resolved key technical problems to  ensure sufficient supply during a peak season.

2009 saw the rapid development of high-speed railway construction projects in China, and Shell Bitumen saw an opportunity and succeeded in winning 30% of the specialised bitumen market in terms of contract value for such projects. Shell bitumen will be used in major high-speed railway projects including the Harbin-Dalian, Beijing-Shanghai, Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong, and Guangzhou-Zhuhai lines.

Nat Wong, Shell Bitumen Sales & Operations General Manager for China and Hong Kong explains: “As the only international bitumen supplier to China’s high-speed railway sector, we are very proud to grasp this business opportunity, enhance our brand strength and demonstrate technical leadership, and at the same time contribute to China’s infrastructure development.”

Why use bitumen for high-speed railway construction?

Before the tracks are laid, a layer of cement-bitumen slurry, with emulsified bitumen as its core feed, has to be filled in. Though just a few centimeters thick, the layer plays a critical role in tuning rail flatness, increasing track elasticity, reducing noise, absorbing bumps and improving the level of comfort for passengers. Shell China Bitumen Sales Development Manager, Qiu Chen, says: “What the high-speed railway business needs is not merely a bitumen supplier, but a reliable slurry solution provider that demonstrates strength in research, development and technical services.”

“It has to have the capacity to supply more than ten thousand tonnes of specialised bitumen in a short period for a single high-speed rail line. That calls for a rationalised network of production sites, reliable supply and consistent quality. All these are what Shell is good at.”

At the end of 2009, the Chengdu-Dujiangyan High-speed Railway completed slurry placement with bitumen from Shell’s plant in Luzhou. Shell products have also passed the initial appraisal to be applied on the Beijing-Shanghai, Harbin-Dalian, Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong high-speed rail lines. Shell China’s Bitumen team aims to further expand its customer base this year.