History of rail transport in China
- This article is part of the history of rail transport by country series.
- 1 Qing Dynasty era
- 2 Republic of China
- 3 People's Republic of China
- 4 See also
- 5 References and notes
- 6 Further reading
- 7 External links
Qing Dynasty era
The first railroad in China, the Woosung Road began service in July 1876, connecting the edge of Shanghai's American Concession in the present-day Zhabei District with Woosung in the present-day Baoshan District. Built by Jardine & Matheson without approval from the Qing government, it was purchased by the Chinese viceroy Shen Baozhen and dismantled in October 1877,   its rails and rolling stock being shipped to Taiwan.
The second railway in China was a 10 km railway from Tangshan to Xugezhuang (Kaiping Tramway and Imperial Railways of North China), built in 1881 to transport coal from the coal mine in Tangshan. As was the case in Shanghai, many officers in the Qing government opposed building this railway. Fortunately, the railway was backed by the powerful Viceroy of Zhili, Li Hongzhang, and survived. Nevertheless, further extension of this railway was delayed due to the opposition. The western extension from Xugezhuang to Tianjin was finished by 1888. The eastern extension started from Tangshan, and by 1894, it had reached Shanhaiguan and Suizhong. This railway was then called "Guanneiwai Railway" (literally, inner and outer Shanhaiguan railway).
The next effort was made by Taiwan Governor Liu Mingchuan. From 1887 to 1893, 107 km of railway tracks were laid from Keelung to Taipei to Hsinchu. However, this railway was later demolished for modernization when Taiwan was under Japanese rule.
Fast development during 1895-1911
The Qing's defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War was a tragedy to China. Ironically, it stimulated the nation's railway development. On one hand, the emperor and the court officers finally understood the importance of the railway transportation during this war. On the other hand, the Qing government became so weak after the war that it was forced by the great powers to grant permissions to construct railways in China as well as many privileges, such as settlement or mining along the railway. By 1911, there were around 9,000 km of rails in China. Most of the rails used the standard gauge (1,435 mm).
The imperial capital, Beijing, was designed as the center of the Chinese railway network. Several lines spoked out from Beijing. Three main lines are Jinghan railway, Jingfeng railway, and Jinpu railway. Jinghan railway was from Beijing to Hankou. The construction started in 1897 and was completed in 1906. The Guangneiwai railway was extended west to Beijing and east to Fengtian by 1912 and renamed as Jingfeng railway. Jinpu railway was built during 1908–1912. It started at Tianjin, connecting Jingfeng railway, and ended at Pukou.
Jingzhang railway (from Beijing to Zhangjiakou) was the first railway designed and constructed by Chinese in 1905-1909. This railway crossed the rugged mountains in the north of Beijing. The chief engineer was Zhan Tianyou. He is called the Father of China's Railways.
Guang - San Railway (Canton - Sam Shui Railway) built in Western Guangdong Province by American engineers 1902-1904
Zhengtai railway was a railway to Taiyuan, finished in 1907. It connected Jinghan railway at Shijiazhuang. (In the original plan, this railway connected Jianghan railway at Zhengding. That is why it was called Zheng-Tai railway.)
Chao-Shan Railway (Chao Chow and Swatow Railway) built by Japanaese engineers 1904–1906 in Eastern Guangdong Province.
Sino-Vietnamese Railway was a 855 km railway built by France during 1904–1910, connecting Haiphong, Vietnam with Kunming. The section within China from Kunming to Hekou is 466 km and the section within Vietnam is 389 km. This railway used 1,000 mm gauge due to the mountain terrain along the route. Currently, it is the only main line in China using narrow gauge.
Chinese Eastern Railway
The Chinese Eastern Railway was a single-tracked line extending (and shortening) the famous world's longest railroad, the Trans-Siberian Railway, from near the Siberian city of Chita via Harbin across northern inner Manchuria to the Russian port of Vladivostok. This route drastically reduced the travel distance required along the original main northern route to Vladivostok (this original route lay completely outside China).
A construction concession was granted by China in 1896 through northern Inner Manchuria, running from near Chita via Harbin to Vladivostok, and construction was drastically accelerated after Russia concluded a twenty-five year lease of Liaodong from China.
Construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway started in July 1897 along the line Tarskaya (east of Chita) - Hailar - Harbin - Nikolsk. Officially, traffic on the line started in November 1901, but regular passenger traffic from Saint Petersburg to Vladivostok across the Trans-Siberian railway started in July 1903.
At this same time in 1898, a 550-mile spur line, most of which later formed the South Manchuria Railway, was started from Harbin down through eastern Manchuria, along the Liaodong Peninsula, to the ice-free deep water port at Lüshun, a town almost at the tip of the peninsula, which Russia was fortifying and overhauling into a first class strategic naval base and marine coaling station for their Far Seas Fleet and Merchant Marine. This town was known in the west as Port Arthur.
The Chinese Eastern Railway was essentially completed in 1902, beating the stretch around Lake Baikal, by fourteen years. Until that portion was completed, cargo on the Trans-Siberian Railway had to be transshipped by ferry the 632 miles along the lake's length.
During the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), Russia lost both Liaodong Peninsula and much of the South Manchurian branch of the railway to Japan. The rail line from Changchun to Lüshun transferred to Japanese control, and now became the South Manchuria Railway.
The original gauge used in the eastern railway was the Russia 1,520 mm broad gauge. Later, when Japan gradually took control this railway, the gauge was changed to the standard gauge (1,435 mm).
South Manchuria Railway
The South Manchuria Railway Company was a company founded by Japan in 1906 after the Russo-Japanese War, and operated in Japanese-occupied Manchuria. The company was created when, in accordance with the Treaty of Portsmouth, the southernmost section (from Changchun to Lüshun) of the South Manchuria branch of the China Far East Railway was transferred to Japanese control along with the Kwantung Leased Territory. From 1906 or 1910 until 1925, the company also operated the Korean railway system.
Republic of China
The building of railways had profound effect on the society and politics of late imperial China. From the 1890s to 1905, nearly all railways in China were planned, financed, built and operated by foreign powers with concessions from the Qing Government. To help local economies develop and retain earnings from railways, the Qing government in 1904 permitted local provinces to organize their own railway companies and raise funds by selling shares to the public. The government in Sichuan, for example, also levied a special tax on land owners, who were given share certificates in the Sichuan-Hankou Railway Company. In May 1911, the Qing government sought to nationalize these locally controlled railway companies and pledge their railway concessions to foreign banks in exchange for loans. The nationalization order provoked fierce public opposition that led to the Railway Protection Movement, which contributed to the outbreak of the Xinhai Revolution. Troops sent to Sichuan from neighboring Hubei weakened defenses in Wuhan where revolutionaries launched the Wuchang Uprising. After founding the Republic of China on January 1, 1912, Dr. Sun Yat-sen agreed to cede the provisional presidency to Yuan Shikai in exchange for the latter's assistance in securing the abdication of Qing court. Sun believed that a national railway network was key to the modernization of China. He sought and received from Yuan Shikai, the portfolio of railway development the new republic.
Before World War II
In 1945, just after the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese mainland claimed 27,000 km of rail, and it was estimated about 23,000 km was usable. By 1948, the number of usable kilometers of rail was estimated at only 8,000 km due to the Chinese Civil War. The Communists actively sabotaged rail lines to disrupt the ruling Nationalists (Kuomintang), and the Nationalists scavenged lesser used railways in order to repair the most important ones.
People's Republic of China
In 1951, after extensive investment in reconstruction, the Communists, who established the People's Republic of China (PRC) in October 1949, had restored the usable network to about 22,000 km. Most of the early reconstruction (about 11,000 km) was in Manchuria because Soviet and Japanese occupation there reduced the amount of sabotage between the fighting parties, allowing for quick repairs.
By 1952, Longhai Railway finally reached its long-planned western terminus - Lanzhou. Lanzhou was then developed as a major railway hub in the northwestern China. The 1,900 km long Lanxin railway was then built from Lanzhou to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, between 1952-1962. Later on, this was extended all the way to the Kazakh border (1990), while another branch went west to Kashgar.
The railway to Tibet however, was more difficult to build due to the high altitude and terrain. Rail lines were first extended to Xining in Qinghai, and by 1984 another section between Xining and Golmud was completed. It was not until 2006 that the whole of the Qingzang railway was finished, linking Lhasa with rest of China. Since then, every province-level entity in the People's Republic of China has a railway network.
End of the steam era
Before the 1980s, due to the low labor cost, ease of manufacture, and cheap coal price, steam locomotives dominated the Chinese railways. During the 1980s and 90s, diesel and electric locomotives gradually replaced steam engines on the main lines. On some provincial rails, however, steam locomotives were not retired until the 21st century. In December 2005, the world's last regular revenue mainline steam train finished its journey on the Jitong railway, marking the end of the steam era. Nevertheless, there are still some steam locomotives used on the industrial railways in China.
As a part of infrastructure upgrade, China in 2007 opened its first High speed rail lines using trains with origins in Canada, France, Germany and Japan.
- Transportation in China
- Rail transport in the People's Republic of China
- The Chinese Eastern Railway - A Glimpse of History by Peter Crush Click "English" and then select "Feature Articles"
- Kaiping Tramway
References and notes
- Portions of this article are based on a translation of the articles Wusong Railway (吳淞鐵路) and Shanghai-Hangchow Railway (滬杭鐵路) from the Chinese Wikipedia.
-  Hong Kong Railway Society website - English version, under Member's Corner : Feature Articles
- Woosung Road – the story of China’s First Railway” by Peter Crush, published Hong Kong 1999 (ISBN 962-85532-1-6)
- Travelling By Train In China
- Norton S. Ginsburg, Geographical Review, Vol. 41, No. 3 (Jul., 1951), pp. 470-474
- 中國鐵路1863－1949:在愚昧、專制、侵略下掙扎(一), 袁偉時
- How the Railroad is Modernising Asia, The Advertiser, Adelaide, S. Australia, 22 March 1913. N.B.: A historical article is of approx. 1,500 words, covering approx. a dozen Asian countries.
- Woosung Road - the story of China's First Railway By Peter Crush, published in Hong Kong 1999.