Rail transport in China

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Rail transport is the most commonly used mode of long-distance transportation in the People's Republic of China. Almost all rail operations in Mainland China are handled by the Ministry of Railways, which is part of the State Council of the People's Republic of China. The 1435 (standard gauge) rail network traverses the length and breadth of the country, covering a total length of 78,000 kilometres (48,600 mi), making only the rail networks in the United States and Russia larger in size. As of 2007, Chinese Railway owned about 578,000 wagons, 44,000 coaches and 18,300 locomotives and ran more than 36,300 trains daily, including about 3000 passenger trains and 33,300 freight trains.[1] The network today serves all provinces with the exception of Macau.

As of October 2008, the Chinese State Council approved a new CNY 2 trillion (US$ 292 billion) railway investment plan to take it up to 2020. The scheme extends China's previously announced railway building program, which was allocated CNY 1.25 trillion (US$ 182 billion) in the 11th five-year plan for 2006 to 2010. As a result of the increased investment, the country's railway network is expected to grow from 78000 km at the end of 2007 to 100000 km by the end of 2010 and ultimately 120000 km by 2020. Growth in freight transport is thought to be one of the drivers behind the increased focus on rail, and the need to increase capacity to meet rising demand.[3]


Qing Dynasty era (1876-1911)

The first railroad to be built in China was the Woosung Railway in 1876, which was a 15 mile railway from Shanghai to Woosung. The railway was however demolished only one year later by the Qing government. Until the defeat of China in the First Sino-Japanese War, only very little development had been made. After the defeat, the imperial capital Beijing was designed as the centre of the Chinese railway network. Several lines were built outwards from Beijing, the three main lines being the Jinghan Railway, Jingfeng Railway and the Jinpu Railway, which today are still some of the busiest lines in China. By 1911, there were around 9000 km of tracks in China. However, many railways were designed, constructed, or even owned by foreign companies. The first indigenously designed and constructed railway by Chinese is the Jingzhang railway built from 1905 to 1909, a difficult job due to the mountainous terrain. The chief engineer of this railway was Zhan Tianyou, who is known as the Father of China's Railway.[citation needed]

The statue of Zhan Tianyou, in Zhangjiakou south railway station.

Republic of China era (1912-1949)

During the Republic of China era from 1912 until 1949, the development of the railway network in China was slowed down. This was due to repeated civil wars and the invasion of Japan in the Second Sino-Japanese War. One of the few exceptions was in Northeastern China (Manchuria). During the reign of the Fengtian warlord from 1912 till 1931, several railway lines were built. The South Manchuria Railway Company by Japanese was founded in 1906 and after the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Japan took over the operation of the Chinese Far East Railway (东清铁路) at Changchun city and southward and kept development going vigorously. In 1945, just after the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese mainland claimed 27,000 km of rail, nearly half of which, 13,000 km, was located in Manchuria. [2]

People's Republic of China era (1949–)

After the establishment of the People's Republic of China, the new government under Mao Zedong invested heavily in the railway network. During the 1950s through to the '70s, especially lines in western China were expanded. One example is the 1900 km railway from Lanzhou to Urumqi, that was built between 1952 and 1962. In Southeastern China, where difficult terrain prevails, several mountain railways were constructed, for example the Baocheng railway built in 1950s and Chengkun railway in 1970s. The railway to Xizang (Tibet) was one of the most difficult to build, and the line was finally completed and opened to the public in 2006. The railway is known as Qingzang railway. Today, every province-level entity of the People's Republic is connected to the railway network, with the exception of Macau.

Not only has the Chinese railway network expanded in size since 1949, but also has seen great technological advances. Before the 1980s, most of the railways were powered by steam, due to low labour costs and cheap coal prices.[citation needed]. However, the first diesel locomotive, the Dongfeng, was introduced in 1959 and during the 1980s and 90s, diesel and electric locomotives gradually replaced the steam engines on main lines. However, steam locomotives didn't retire from some provincial railways until the 21st century. In December 2005, the world last regular revenue mainline steam train finished its journey on the Jitong railway, marking the end of steam era. Nevertheless, there are still some steam locomotives used in the industrial railways in China.

From 1990 to 2001, on average some 1,092 km of new railways, 837 km of multiple-track, and 962 km of electrified railways were opened to traffic annually, 2.4-fold, 1.7-fold and 1.8-fold increases respectively over the previous 10 years. At the end of 2004, railways in operation reached 74,200 km, including 24,100 km of multiple track and 18,900 km of electrified railways. On a global basis, China's rail transport volume is one of the world's largest, having six percent of the world's operating railways, and carrying 25 percent of the world's total railway workload. China also leads in terms of the growth rate of transport volume and use of transport equipment.

Since 1997, train speed has been raised significantly six times. The top speed of express trains increased from 120 km to 200 km per hour, and passenger trains can reach maximum speed of 350 km per hour on some sections of the arterial railways.

Current network

China maintains about twenty principal domestic railway routes with a total length of 78,000 km. [1]It is the busiest railway network in the world, moving 24% of global rail traffic with just 6% of the world's tracks.[3] China's network of electric railways is the third largest (by mileage) in the world, after Russia and Germany.[4]

Total: 78,000 km[1](network length).The total track length is 154,600km. English language statistics for 2004 state 74,200. Both exclude any ROC-controlled areas (e.g. Taiwan) and include cross-boundary services to Hong Kong</ref> (including 5,400 km of provincial "local" rails and Hong Kong MTR)

Main lines

The map of the railway network of China as of 2005 (including Taiwan as politically claimed).

Main article: List of railways in China

Railway Management

There are three levels of management in the national railway system of mainland China

There are sixteen Railway Bureaus and two Railway Group Companies under the Minister of Railways.

There are also some local railway lines operated by local state-owned companies. The only private-owned railway line in China is Luoding Railway in Guangdong Province.[citation needed]

In Hong Kong, MTR operates the rail network.


The two main categories of conventional Chinese locomotives are the Dongfeng diesel locomotives and the Shaoshan electric locomotives. Most modern trains, for example for the China Railway High-Speed service, are either imported or produced in China using technology transfer agreements.

Train speed limits

China has increased the allowed top speed for trains six times: in April 1997, October 1998, October 2000, November 2001, April 2004, and April 18 2007. In the 1997 speedup, the top speed of passenger trains on some of the main lines was increased to 140 km/h. During the following speedups top speeds were increased to 160 km/h on some lines and up to 250 km/h. During the 2007 speedup, the top speeds reached 200 km/h on 6,003 km tracks of main lines such as Jinghu Railway, Jingha Railway, and Jingguang Railway. [5] On 848 km tracks the top speeds reached 250 km/h, most of which were on the Qinshen Passenger Railway.Another 14,000 km tracks had a top speed limit of 160 km/h and an extra 22,000 km tracks had a 120 km/h limit. [6] In addition, during this speedup, the heavy-haul freight transportation speed limit was also boosted to 120 km/h. This speedup was expected to boost passenger and cargo capacity by 18 percent and 12 percent respectively. [7] The newly built Beijing-Tianjin high-speed rail has a top speed of 350km/h.

Passenger transport

Rail is one of the principal means of transport in Mainland China, with over 1.3 billion railway trips taken in 2007 and 1.4 billion estimated for 2008.[8] The Spring Festival Travel Season is the peak railway travel season of the year. In 2008, 1.456 billion people travelled 772.8 billion km by rail.[9]


During the three weeklong holidays in China, known as "Golden Week", demand for tickets increases dramatically due to many migrant workers returning home and others using the time to travel the country. The holidays are the week starting May 1st and October 1st and the week around Chinese New Year, also know as the Chunyun season.

Chinese New Year

Every year before, during and after the Chinese New Year, Chinese railway operate the Chunyun period - increased services on most lines for the increased demand due to the holidays. Since railway transport is the cheapest method for long distance travellers in China, the railway is the most important transport method during the Chunyun period. For example, during the 40 days of the 2007 Chunyun period, it is estimated that 156 million passengers used trains. This translates to an average of 3.9 million passengers a day. However, the average daily capacity of the Chinese railway system is 2.4 million. To make the situation even worse, traffic is highly imbalanced: before the Chinese New Year, passengers mainly travel from eastern provinces to western provinces. After the holiday, traffic reverses. Although hundreds of temporary trains are operated, train tickets are still in short supply. Trains are very crowded during this period, for example; a passenger car with 118 seats may accommodate more than 200 people.[citation needed]

Cross-border services

Passenger train services are available to destinations in Kazakhstan, North Korea, Mongolia, Russia and Vietnam, as well as Hong Kong, a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Mostly, the cross-border train services are called "international train" in China, except the through-trains to Hong Kong.

Link to Hong Kong

Train services to Hong Kong terminate at the Hung Hom Station in Kowloon. Within Hong Kong the cross-border services use the tracks of the East Rail Line. There are three through-train routes, Beijing line (to/from Beijing), Shanghai line (to/from Shanghai) and Guangdong line (to/from Zhaoqing and Guangzhou East). Another Express Train service linking Hong Kong and Guangzhou with intermediary stop in Shenzhen has been approved and cosntruction in China section has started. This new express rail line with reduce the train travel time between Hong Kong and Guangzhou from 2 hours to 1 hour.

Proposed link to Macau

Macau is the only part of China that has no railway. A extension of the Guangzhou Railway to Cotai through Hengqin Island have been proposed.[10]

Links to Russia

For a long time, China's rail network has connected with Russian railways at two points: Manzhouli and Suifenhe. These connections exist since the construction of the Transsiberian Railway in the early 1900s, since the earliest Transsiberian route took a shortcut through China's Manchuria along what was known as the China Eastern Railway. The former is used by one of the Beijing-Moscow trains (there is also an alternative route via Mongolia), while the latter is used by a service to Russia's Primorsky Krai. As of November 2008, there was no direct passenger service from e.g. Harbin to Vladivostok, but one could travel along this route with transfers in Suifenhe, Grodekovo, and Ussuriysk.[11]

The third, little known and even less used, rail connection between the two countries was built farther south, between Hunchun and Russian Makhalino (a station on the Ussuriysk-Khasan-North Korean border line, 41 km before Khasan). It began operating in February 2000,[12] and saw a minor amount of traffic (678 railcars of lumber) over the next two years. The line was closed in 2002-2003, reopened in 2003, but, as of summer 2004, it was still reported as seeing little traffic.[13]

In November 2008, the transport ministries of Russia and China signed an agreement about creating one more link between the railways of the two countries. It will involve a railway bridge between across the Heilongjiang (Amur) River, connecting Tongjiang in China's Jiamusi prefecture with Nizhneleninskoye, a village in Russia's Jewish Autonomous Oblast. At this point, the construction work was expected to start in 2009 and to be completed in 2011.[14][15]

Links to Mongolia

Train services to Mongolia terminate in Ulan Bator. China's rail network connects with Mongolia railways in Erenhot in China and Dzamyn Ude in Mongolia. Nowadays, there are two trains every week departing from Beijing and Hohhot. Moreover, there are five times of train service between Ulan Bator and Erenhot every week. As same as links to Russia, the international trains need to change bogies in Erenhot, since Mongolia use broad gauge.

Links to Kazakshtan

See Alashankou.

High-speed rail

High-speed rail services were introduced in China in 2007 and are operated by the CRH. Other conventional trains were upgraded at the same time.

Conventional railways

350 km/h railways

200 km/h railways

Total 6003 km as of April 2007.

Rolling stocks


  1. ^ a b c http://www.tieliu.com.cn/Article/2008/200807/2008-07-31/20080731112934_148062.html
  2. ^ Manchurian railway development [1]
  3. ^ Fast Train to China
  4. ^ "China's Mileage of electrified railways tops 20,000 km" People's Daily, December 27, 2005
  5. ^ More homemade high-speed trains to hit rails
  6. ^ France 24
  7. ^ CCTV International
  8. ^ Wu, Zhong (May 7, 2008). "Blowing the whistle on 'Big Brother'". Asia Times Online. Retrieved 2008-05-06.
  9. ^ 去年全国铁路发送旅客14.56亿人次 增长10.6%
  10. ^ Macau - Meeting Point: a Legacy for the Future (1999), published by the Comissão Territorial de Macau para es Comemorações does Descobrimentos Portugueses, p.6.
  11. ^ According to the Russian train schedules at http://www.poezda.net/ (November 2008).
  12. ^ Kawamura, Kazumi. "Nine Transportation Corridors in Northeast Asia and Their Discontinuous Points". The Economic Research Institute for Northeast Asia. Retrieved 2008-02-09.
  13. ^ Пустой коридор ("An empty corridor") Dalnevostochny Kapital, No.7, July 2004. (in Russian)
  14. ^ "Строительство первого железнодорожного моста соединяющего Китай и Россию начнется в 2009 году" (Construction of the first railway bridge connecting Russia and China will start in 2009) China.org.cn, 2008-11-27. (in Russian)
  15. ^ [2] (This is somewhat obsolete by now)

See also

External links