Travelling in China – The railway network

Every year between January and February, hundreds of millions of Chinese make their journeys home for the Lunar New Year. It is a crowded and unpleasant experience for all involved. Consequently, a rapid development of China’s high-speed rail line is seeking to change that. China has the world’s longest high-speed train network and over the next two years another 3500 trillion yuan (€ 500 billion) will be invested to expand the rail system by 18% to 150,000 km of railway. Much of this investment will be used to advance the high-speed network into western China.

Train travel in China is increasing rapidly. The global advent of cheap flights has generally reduced the attractiveness of rail travel, but in China the situation is reversed.

Just a decade ago, there were almost no high-speed trains in China, but over 25,000 kilometers of railway lines were built between 2013 and 2017. More than half of these lines were for high-speed trains. It is expected that the high-speed lines will make up 50% of the total railway network by 2025. Eight high-speed lines will be built linking east with west and north with south. The intention is to use the high-speed train lines to connect the rich, economically strong eastern coastal regions to the economically underdeveloped western regions.

The Chinese government hopes that the high-speed routes will provide sufficient capacity for peak travel season. This would contribute to tourism and economic growth, and as a result the economic differences between East and West China could be reduced.

In December 2017, China’s newest western high-speed line was opened. It connects the Sichuan province capital of Chengdu with Xi’an, a city in northwestern China. The high-speed line runs at a speed of 250 kilometers per hour and a quarter of the total distance runs through mountainous areas. A one-way ticket costs 263 Yuan (€38), around the half price of a flight. Ten years ago, this train journey lasted 10 hours. Now it is just three.