High Speed Rail in China

FP: China, Connected
Netizens liken the HSR network to a subway system; one that’s convenient, fast, and integrated. “HSR has transformed China into one big city. Someone can live in Shijiazhuang and work in Beijing,” one commentator noted on mobile message platform WeChat. (The cities are about 180 miles apart, or a little over an hour on HSR.) Web users have said merely looking at the map makes them want to travel, tour, and eat. One version of the map going around points out the many possibilities for foodies along the Nanjing-Chengdu line, beginning with blood and vermicelli soup in Nanjing, then duck neck in Wuhan, and ending with hot pot in Chengdu.

The opening of a new line generates genuine excitement in cities slated to join the grid. In March, officials announced that the line running from Yanji — at 400,000 people, this northeastern city in Jilin province is small by Chinese standards — to the provincial capital of Changchun would open in October, cutting travel time from about five hours by bus to two by rail. As one Changchun resident from Yanji gushed, “Ever since we heard the news, my whole family has been looking forward to it.”

Even in places already graced by HSR, the possibility of a new line gets people buzzing. In July, questions from local residents about a proposed direct route between Hangzhou and Wenzhou dominated a call-in town hall meeting held by Wenzhou’s head of development and reform. And cities passed over for HSR have complained loudly. In May, thousands of citizens from Linshui, a county in Sichuan, amassed in a reverse NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) protest, seeking both the convenience and the economic bump that a rail station would have brought.
China's HSR network is convenient and affordable. It's possible to walk from Beijing to Shanghai thanks to the subway and HSR network. A cab is cheap enough in China, but it is remarkable how far one can go on foot if you so choose.


  1. It's affordable only because it is subsidized - the money just comes from their other pocket unknowingly.

    The Chinese have built it, now let's see them maintain it for the next 100 years. I suspect that the HSR network will be just like all other infrastructure in China - not maintained and crumbling after a decade. On another but similar topic, I think the recent glut of elevator / escalator disasters is just the beginning of what will happen to a vast majority of highrise buildings in China. That machinery will not be maintained well and when it comes time to for there to be an expensive fix / new machine, there will be battles between the property owners, management company, developer and local government as to who will pay for the fixes - end result will be nothing being done and the residents will now be climbing the steps to get to their 20th floor apartment.

    Back on the topic of HSR - did you see this video? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAR03OmWRDg

    I don't bother taking trains in China or ride on Chinese airlines (unless its Dragonair).

    - Luke

    1. The massive subsidy was the initial investment, which the article noted exceeded $100 billion in some years. There will never be a profit on that. The only way this will ever be profitable is due to network effects. And you're right about maintenance. HSR maintenance will be the "GDP gift" that keeps on giving.