High-speed trains in China

6 Mar

Since 1999, China has been building one of the world’s largest high speed train (HST) networks in the world. A continuous high speed track from Beijing in the North to Guangzhou in the South has recently been completed in December 2012. There are further plans to expand the high speed railway from what was 86,000 kilometres in 2009 to 120,000 kilometres in 2020 at a cost of US$300 billion (Hung, 2010).

Zheng and Kahn (2013) follow the consensus that the construction of the railway will benefit the economic development of the areas that it serves. They identify 2nd and 3rd tier cities as the primary beneficiaries of these advantages because whereas previously they had been relatively inaccessible from larger cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, now business can more easily be connected and expanded out along the new high speed train lines (Zheng and Kahn, 2013). Zhitao (2013) enforces this point stating that the HST network brings vigour to the expansion and development of this class of city in China.

HSTs do not only advance 2nd and 3rd tier cities but also primary cities because they allow for more commuting without adding to congestion within those cities (Zheng and Kahn, 2013). Large cities can be undesirable places to live with overcrowding and high crime among problems, so people – especially those in better paid jobs – are likely to want to live outside the city. The HSTs can help to separate labour (in the city) and living.

However, there are issues with the HST network. Stations are too often located in the suburbs out of the city where connections with less efficient, older and less bankrolled public transport systems are often poor (Xu and He, 2013). The stations are built out of the city centres because of their large airport terminal style design designed to manage a large capacity (Chen and Wei, 2013). It would seem that in an effort to allow for a large and increasing number of passengers by building large stations, planners have actually reduced the number of passengers.

Furthermore, the HST network does not expand to the less developed Central and Western regions of China. This further separates Western China from the rapidly developing East, causing it to fall even further behind. It is understandable however that these areas are not a priority considering such a railway would not see as much use as the current railways do on the coast.

The HST program in China is massively benefitting the economy of those areas that it does serve. That said, as is to be expected there are inefficiencies and shortcomings.


Chen, CL. and Wei, B. 2013. High-speed rail and urban transformation in China: the case of Hangzhou East Rail Station. Built Environment. Vol 39, no.3, pp385-398.

Hung, W. 2010. Critical issues of high speed rail development in China. UC Denver.

Xu, JJ. and He, J. 2013. Spatial impacts of high speed railways in China: a total-travel-time approach. Environment and Planning. Vol 45, pp2261-2280.

Zheng, S. and Kahn, M. 2013. China’s bullet trains facilitate market integration and mitigate the cost of megacity growth. PNAS.

Zhitao, D. 2013. Full Speed Ahead. Beijing Review. Vol 56, no.1.

Theo Tritton


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