How Big and Fast is China’s High Speed Rail Network? (in 2019)
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How Big and Fast is China’s High Speed Rail Network? (in 2019)

November 16, 2019

Hi, I’m Lucas Niewenhuis, a news editor
at supChina and today we’ll be talking about China’s high-speed rail system. U.S.
congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey in February
announced a pair of resolutions called the Green New Deal which include a
proposal, to quote, “build out high-speed rail at a scale where air travel stops
becoming necessary.” If they wanted inspiration, they could look halfway
around the world to China, which is well on its way to a high-speed rail future.
For travel between dozens of major cities in China, taking the train is the
easy option, and flying as a second choice. The trains operate at speeds of
155-217 miles per hour. The network comprises 18,000 miles of railways,
planned to extend to 24,000 miles by 2025.
If transplanted to the United States China’s high-speed railways would make
the entire East Coast and much as the Midwest accessible by high-speed train,
with lines probing into the Washington State and Texas. Typical train ticket costs are
reasonable. The Beijing-Shanghai route, which takes five hours, instead of a
two-hour flight, is currently as cheap as 553 yuan, or $78. How did China get there?
China already had an extensive conventional railway network, one of the
few infrastructure achievements of the Mao era. The Ministry of Railways began
planning China’s high-speed rail network in the 1990s, state-owned China railway
corporation (CRC) owning and operating all the tracks, trains and services. China’s
first conventional high-speed route opened in August 2008 to coincide with
the Olympic Games, connecting host city Beijing with nearby Tianjin, a half-hour
journey at more than 200 miles per hour. In 2012 the Beijing Shanghai route
opened, probably the busiest line on the network, transporting about 180 million
passengers a year – 800 miles – about the distance between New York and Chicago – in
five hours. In 2013 a route connecting Shanghai to Wuhan and spicy food capital
Chengdu opened, a 1,200 mile journey that takes about six hours. The same year the
Shanghai-Hangzhou-Fuzhou -Shenzen line was also completed, connecting
four of the economic dynamos of the east coast. Lines spreading farther west in
China were open in following years. Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu Province,
was connected with Urumqi and Xinjiang in 2014 and in 2016 a line from Shanghai,
all the way through the beautiful mountains of Yunnan province to Kunming was opened. in 2018 the Beijing/Hong Kong route opened. A ten hours journey from
the capital people’s Republic terminates at a railway station in Kowloon, that is
operated by the mainland Chinese authorities and under Chinese legal
jurisdiction. Many Hong Kongers are not comfortable with this. CRC announced in
January 2019 that it planned to open 4225 miles of new high-speed rail in
2019. Future plans include connecting Tibet to Sichuan and extending the Xinjiang
part of the network to Kashgar. In May 2019, CRC unveiled a prototype of a
high-speed train using China-developed mag lev technology that is designed to
run at 370 miles per hour. But are Chinese high-speed trains safe? They seem
very safe. There has been only one reported accident that led to fatalities
in the network’s history, however the circumstances of that accident have led
to persistent doubts among the public. On July 23 2011, a high-speed train from
Hangzhou to Fuzhou crashed near the city of Wenzhou in eastern China, killing 40
people and injuring more than 100. The authorities bungled the cleanup and at
various times told implausible stories about the cause and progress of disaster
relief work, leading to widespread criticism online. Since then, however, a
zero accident record, for the better part of a decade, has reassured most Chinese
passengers that the trains are safe.

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