Sunday, January 3, 2010

High-Speed Train Development

China's transportation infrastructure is getting a significant upgrade.

From National Pulic Radio:

Workers are putting the finishing touches on a French-designed, glass-and-steel train station on the fringes of Wuhan, a major metropolis on the middle reaches of the Yangtze River in China.

Inside, the mostly middle-class passengers line up to board the high-speed train. It takes just three hours to cover the more than 600 miles to Guangzhou, China's third-largest city, in the heart of the industrialized Pearl River Delta. That's 10 hours less than the conventional train takes.

While the United States has allocated $13 billion for the construction of high-speed rail over the next five years, China plans to spend $300 billion in the next decade to build the world's most extensive and advanced high-speed rail network.

In the first-class section of the train to Guangzhou, where tickets cost upwards of $100 — almost double the price of second-class seats — real estate company manager Yang Tao and his wife have swiveled the seats in front of them around and put their feet up. He says he's willing to pay extra for a comfortable ride.

"My wife is afraid of flying," he says with a chuckle. "Taking this train is more convenient than going to the airport, with all the security checks. The flights are often delayed and the airlines' attitude is arrogant."

Onboard video screens show off the train's advanced features. In the dining car, passengers eat roast duck gizzards and spicy noodles and watch the terraced fields and factory towns of South China slip past their windows at speeds averaging around 220 mph.

By 2012, China plans to have almost three dozen high-speed rail lines crisscrossing the country. Nearly 130,000 workers are now building the Beijing-to-Shanghai line, which at $32 billion will be China's most expensive construction project ever. The frenzy of construction is at the heart of China's massive fiscal stimulus to revive the economy.

Read On
Wuhan and Guangzhou are not close to each other. At all.

Image from

There is a high speed train in development between Xi'an and Beijing. The thirteen hour trip will be three or four after the train is built.

This high-speed train development is great. Chinese trains are so crowded now. Adding high-speed trains onto the already running trains is going to make train travel much easier throughout the country. Such development will also decrease dependency on air travel.

Reading about this project reminds me of what the film producer Bob Compton said to me a few months ago, "China's stimulus is building while America's is bailing." America, right now, can only dream of such projects (and honestly, most Americans don't even understand the value of getting away from our car culture). China is actually making their ambitious dreams a reality.


Anonymous said...

I love NPR as well and heard the same story today. What impressed me the most is when the Chinese Engineer cited that it was the only environmentally responsible way for China to solve its mass transit problem due to the size of its population. China has justly gotten a lot of criticism over its environmental track record, but the positives should be pointed out as well.

Also its nice to see China find its own way as it develops economic strength and not just act "western" and start mass producing airplanes.

One of the criticisms is that these solutions really only cater to the wealthy and that migrant workers will still be forced into crammed trains to commute back and forth for holidays and work. A valid criticism, but at least the highspeed rails will ease the burden a bit.

Mark said...

I agree, NPR is the best.

I see where the criticism on only catering to the wealthy comes in, but I would imagine that these trains would lighten the load on normal trains. As more and more Chinese are getting wealthy, more and more will be able to afford these high-speed rails.

Sure, the percentage of people who can afford these new trains is small. But having been on packed cheaper trains before, any easing will be a great benefit.

Taylor O said...

I love trains; I think the chugging along tracks riverside watching the cities, towns and nature blur by is amazing, in a cozier bigger space than available on a plane flight.

That said trains are often just not practical compared to other options. Case in point, target of stimulus dollars Chicago to Minneapolis route. I have taken this Amtrak train and currently it takes from around 5am leaving the Minneapolis area and arriving in Chicago's Union Station at approximately 5pm. Even with a higher speed train at the cost of many billions of tax payer dollars, the time could not possibly improve airplane ranges. Only one of these superfast ones or maglev Shanghai style could even approach it and they are even less financially feasible. A fare of several hundreds of dollars for a long train ride is just not comparable to a $69 dollar Southwest one way that gets you there in 1.5 hours. Security you say at the airport? Trains will have that one day as soon as one incident occurs.

Any of these projects are market distortions, taking money from all taxpayers to divert to the preferences of some. Sure, I'd be happy with the Minnesota to Chicago train occasionally wasting a Saturday but not for many others, time is too precious.

loco2travel said...

You say that your time is too precious, but what about our natural resources?

I agree with Hogfrog: "the only environmentally responsible way for China to solve its mass transit problem". At loco2travel we think that the development of high speed trains is a fantastic step towards green travel, and I am delighted that China is giving the rest of the world the kick it needs to question our reliance on flying. I wonder if the US can rise to the challenge.