In China, the railway is an important national infrastructure. Rail transport plays a very important role in the development of the national economy. It is not only the main force of passenger transportation, but also an important transportation method for important materials such as energy and minerals.
The number of passengers traveling by railway is increasing year by year. According to the data from the National Railway Administration, in 2019, railways in China delivered 3.66 billion travelers.
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China Railway Construction
China's railways have a history of more than 100 years, and China is the third Asian country to build railways after Japan and India.
Railway Construction During the Qing Dynasty
China’s first passenger railway was built in the late of 19th century during the Qing Dynasty -- Woosung Railway in Shanghai connecting Zhabei District and Wusong in Baoshan District, with the total length of 14.5 kilometers (9 miles). In 1909, Beijing – Zhangjiakou Railway, the first rail route designed and constructed by Chinese people, was built and officially put into service.
Railway Construction in the 1950s
After nearly decades of development, China’s railway construction proceeded on a large scale in the 1950s. In 1952, the first railway of the People’s Republic of China, the Chengdu – Chongqing Railway opened. In the 1950s and 1960s, several railways were built, including the final sections of the Longhai Railway between Lianyungang of Jiangsu Province in the east of China and Lanzhou of Gansu Province in the west, Baoji – Chengdu Railway, and Lanzhou – Urumqi Railway. These rail lines extended the national rail network from the east to the north and west.
Railway Construction in the Late 20th Century
With the development of economy, the transport pressure of railway is increasing. The trains were heavily overloaded and there’s not enough freight capacity. During this time, China further expanded the rail network. By the end of the 1990s, a number of main rail lines, including the Beijing – Hong Kong Railway, Nanning – Kunming Railway, and Datong – Qinhuangdao Railway, etc. The operating mileage of national railways has reached over 66,000 kilometers. In the meantime, China Rail also takes the “speed up” as the development strategy. The average running speed of trains increased from 48.3 km/h (30 mph) in 1994 to 54.9 km/h (34 mph) in 1997. In 2000s, trains’ average running speed reached 70 km/h.
China High-Speed Railway Boom Since 2010s.
After the 2010s, China’s high-speed railway construction has developed rapidly. In 2003, China’s first high-speed railway, Qinhuangdao – Shenyang High-Speed Railway, opened, with the maximum running speed of 250km/h. In the following ten years, numerous high-speed rail routes have been completed. High-speed rail lines of Beijing – Shanghai, Beijing – Xi’an, Guangzhou – Shenzhen, Shanghai – Hangzhou, and Xi’an – Chengdu are among the most popular and heavily-traveled routes.
China Railway Administration
The Ministry of Railways of the People's Republic of China used to be the department that in charge of construction and operation of railways. Nowadays, the administration of China railway has been transferred to China State Railway Group Company, Ltd, a state-owned industrial enterprise. It undertakes railway passenger and cargo transportation services and adjust nationwide train timetable.
China Railway Network
China has one of the world’s largest and busiest railway networks. Trains link almost every city. China has the longest high-speed rail network in the world, after the United States of America, and the second longest railway network. As of 2020, the length of railways in China totaled 150,000 kilometers (93,000 miles), including 59% double tracked and 37,900 kilometers (23,498 miles) of high-speed rail network.
High-Speed Rail Network
High-speed rail lines refer to all new lines with a design speed of more than 250 km/h (155 mph) and some existing lines with a design speed of more than 200 km/h (124 mph) after renovation. Currently, China’s fastest high-speed trains can reach speeds up to 400 km/h (248 mph). They run on rail lines including Beijing – Shanghai, Wuhan – Guangzhou, Shanghai – Hangzhou, and Zhengzhou – Xi’an, etc.
China has the largest high-speed railway network. By the end of 2020, the total mileage reached 37,900 kilometers (24,498 miles), of which the total mileage of lines with an operating speed of 300 kilometers per hour exceeded 15,000 kilometers (9,300 miles). At present, all provinces and regions are connected by national railways except Tibet and Macau.
China’s high-speed network is consisted of eight rail corridors, including four verticals (north-south rail lines) and four horizontals (east – west rail lines). Most of them use the existing rail lines with the top speed of 200 – 250 km/h (120 – 160 mph). Some of them are dedicated high-speed rail lines with the maximum running speed of 300 – 350 km/h (190 – 220 mph).
In the next decade, China is planning on expanding its high-speed rail network which composes of eight verticals and eight horizontals. This network will cover Taiwan and more regions in the west.
Also read China High-Speed Rail.
Regular Rail Network
Regular railways serve trains with the maximum running speed less than 160 km/h. Chinese regular rail network covers almost every corner of the country, even remote mountainous areas. Regular rail network consists of sixteen rail corridors, including eight verticals running in a north-south direction and eight horizontals running in an east-west direction.
Eight verticals: Beijing – Shanghai Line, Beijing – Harbin Line, Beijing – Hong Kong Line (Jingjiu Line), Beijing – Guangzhou Line, East Coast Corridor (from eastern coastal city of Dalian to southern city of Beihai), Datong – Zhanjiang Line, Baotou – Liuzhou Line, Lanzhou – Kunming Line
Eight horizontals: Beijing – Tibet Line, Suifenhe – Manzhouli Line, Qingdao – Yinchuan Line, Lianyungang – Urumqi Line, Shanghai – Chengdu Line, Shanghai – Kunming Line, Xiamen – Chongqing Line and Guangzhou – Kunming Line.
International Rail Lines
China’s regular rail network extends to a few international railways to other countries. Beijing – Nanning Rail Line Beijing – Nanning Rail Line, a branch of Beijing – Hong Kong Rail Line (Jingjiu Line), extends to Hanoi in Vietnam. Three rail routes link China to Trans-Siberian Railway. Currently, international trains travel on several routes: Beijing – Nanning – Hanoi Rail Line, Beijing – Mongolia Rail Line, Beijing – Moscow Rail Line, and China – North Korea Rail Line. In addition, a few international rail lines are under construction including international routes from China to Thailand and Laos.
Also read China Railway Network.