When one talks about modern China, no symbol is more powerful than the ubiquitous 20,000 km long high-speed rail line that has revolutionized travel in China, accelerated the economy and connected the remote ends of the sprawling country. By the end of 2016, CHSR accounted for about 60% of the world’s high-speed railroads, more than the rest of the world combined. With an annual ridership of over 1.44 billion in 2016, the Chinese HSR network is the most heavily used in the world.
On 1 August 2008, when China’s first high speed railway, the Beijing-Tianjin Inter-city High Speed Railway pulled out of Beijing South Railways Station, it fast-tracked a process of change that transformed China’s cities. Travelling at incredible speeds of 300 kms per hour, it made China’s remote geography significantly more accessible. Notable lines today include the world’s longest line, the 2,298 km (1,428 mi) Beijing–Guangzhou High-Speed Railway and the Shanghai Maglev, the world’s first high-speed commercial magnetic levitation (maglev) line.
Less than a decade ago, China had yet to connect any of its cities by bullet train, today, more than 2.5 billion annual trips transport over a billion passengers across China with sublime efficiency — the average delay time is less than a minute. Plans are in motion for another
15,000km by 2025. Just as astonishing is the urban growth that has mushroomed alongside the tracks. At regular intervals, wherever there are stations, thickets of newly built offices and residential blocks rise from the ground – offshoots of this transportation revolution.
Now China is also aiming to be the main builder for an overland rail network from Singapore in the southern tip of Southeast Asia northwards through Indochina and China, then westwards through central Asia and Europe. It calls for technology that can adapt to different
train gauges used along the way from Southeast Asia’s metre-wide gauge to China’s 1.435-metre standard gauge to Russia’s 1.52-metre broad gauge. The plan is part of the government’s “One belt, One Road” strategy to recreate the ancient Silk Road trade routes.
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