Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 00:44 | SYDNEY
Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 00:44 | SYDNEY

China: High-speed train to the future


Sam Roggeveen


27 October 2010 14:15

Yesterday a colleague passed me this factoid, but without a source:

If things go as planned, by 2013, China will have more kilometres of track in operation for high speed rail than the rest of the world combined.

I was sceptical at first, because high speed rail (HSR) coverage is quite dense in Europe (France and Germany were early adopters, though Spain is now the front-runner). But I should have known better, since China seems to specialise in astonishing economic and infrastructure statistics these days. And sure enough, a search revealed this World Bank report, which states:

By 2012 China will have built no less than 42 passenger lines with maximum train speeds in excess of 250km/h, and will offer high-speed rail travel on 13,000 kilometers of route. China will have more high-speed railway than the rest of the world put together.

The report is very positive about the benefits China is likely to enjoy from this network, though it quite candidly states that economic and demographic conditions need to be just right for HSR lines to make back their operating costs, never mind the capital cost.

Two other things to point out before anyone gets carried away with the wisdom and prescience of Chinese infrastructure planning: (1) The speed and scale of China's HSR boom is built partly on a lack of property rights — it's much harder to find HSR routes in countries where you can't just move people off their land; and (2) China quite brazenly rips off foreign technology in this field, just as it does in aerospace.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.