It is also clear that implementing high-speed rail offers many benefits both for railways and the wider economy, but also poses many challenges.

As Mr Yoshio Ishida, UIC chairman and vice-chairman of JR East, pointed out, the sheer scale and speed of the development of high-speed rail in China is unprecedented.
The figures speak for themselves. It is just over two years since China opened its first line, and the network has already reached 6920km and this will almost double by the end of next year. China will also increase the maximum speed of high-speed trains from 350 to 380km/h when the Beijing - Shanghai line opens later this year.

China has showed the world what can be achieved when one is determined enough first to acquire the technology and skills needed, marshal and enhance those resources, and apply them as fast as possible.

Of course China's wealth and political and social structure make it possible to achieve things that other countries can only dream of. But unless you set challenging goals, nothing will ever be achieved.

Several speakers in Beijing were keen to stress that implementing high-speed rail can give a huge boost to a country's technical expertise and industry. High-speed rail along with heavy-haul freight push railway technology to its limits and beyond. This is certainly the case in Europe, Japan, Korea and now China. It is sad that those US politicians who are so vehemently opposed to high-speed rail do not recognise the huge economic returns high-speed would generate.

Fortunately, one of the United States' leading manufacturers, GE, has now recognised the potential of high-speed and will form a US-based joint venture with CSR, China.

China's plan to break the world rail speed record this year, currently held by France, is another step in its strategy to demonstrate that it is now able to make its own technical advances, while China's two manufacturing giants, CNR and CSR, are poised to unleash their new-found technology and products on the world.

In contrast, France currently seems hell-bent on squandering its high-speed legacy with its misguided policy of threatening legal action when it fails to get its own way, as the continuing dispute over Eurostar's decision to award a contract for high-speed trains to Siemens rather than Alstom demonstrates. In the latest twist in this absurd saga, French members of parliament are trying to block the deal even though the contract has been signed.

Investing in high-speed also represents a challenge and a danger for countries which only have conventional railways, or are new to rail, and lack a sound industrial base.

Running a high-speed railway is very different from a conventional one. Operating and maintenance staff must be of a very high calibre and well trained and disciplined, and there needs to be strong technical support. Failure to maintain the railway in tip-top condition will quickly lead to reductions in speed and reliability, and worst of all, compromise safety.

One wonders if some of the countries planning to build high-speed lines are fully aware of the challenges and risks they face. A serious accident with high loss of life would be a major setback for high-speed rail, as would a "white elephant" project.

There is more to high-speed than simply providing a short journey time between two cities. To be successful, stations need to be well connected to the areas they serve. The huge investment in metros in Chinese cities will certainly help, but it is interesting to note while the 120km dash by 350km/h train from Beijing to Tianjin lasts just 30 minutes, it takes at least one hour to cross Beijing by metro.

Passengers also demand a lot more than just speed. They expect high-quality and highly-reliable services with internet access, catering, and online purchase of tickets. The aim should be to try to turn what is essentially a mass mode of transport into a personal service.

High-speed rail technology has come a long way since the first Japanese bullet train flashed past Mount Fuji in 1964. Advances in technology have made it possible to almost double the maximum speed of trains from 200 to 380km/h, which has extended the commercial reach of high-speed trains to distances in excess of 1000km.

Nevertheless, several speakers in Beijing were keen to point out that other modes of transport are advancing as well.

"Air transport is doing a lot to become more efficient, and we should not underestimate the new developments taking place with electric cars, so there is certainly no certainty and no stability," says Mrs Barbara Dalibard, CEO of SNCF Voyages, France. "On the other hand, I am very optimistic, but we have to fight to retain our market share and we must push for innovations."

Certainly, there is no room for complacency in the development of high-speed rail.