Speedy Trains Transform China

The New York Times’ Keith Bradsher reports that high-speed rail has, “without a doubt, transformed China, often in unexpected ways.”

Just five years after China’s system opened, it is carrying nearly twice as many passengers each month as the country’s domestic . With traffic growing 28 percent a year for the last several years, China’s high-speed rail network will handle more passengers by early next year than the 54 million people a month who board domestic flights in the United States.

Li Xiaohung, a shoe factory worker, rides the 430-mile route from Guangzhou home to once a month to visit her daughter. Ms. Li used to see her daughter just once a year because the trip took a full day. Now she comes back in 2 hours 19 minutes.

Business executives like Zhen Qinan, a founder of the stock market in coastal Shenzhen, ride bullet to meetings all over China to avoid airport delays. The hurtle along at 186 miles an hour and are smooth, well-lighted, comfortable and almost invariably punctual, if not early. “I did not think it would change so quickly. High-speed seemed like a strange thing, but now it’s just part of our lives,” Mr. Zhen said. [Source]

The Wenzhou rail disaster which killed 40 people in 2011 continues to cast a shadow over the network. Bradsher confronts the lingering question of safety in a separate article, and finds that with no passenger fatalities since, “Chinese high-speed rail has so far established a mortality-risk level that equals or exceeds that of the world’s safest airlines.” But concerns remain, he writes, regarding the speed of the network’s construction, the durability of its unhardened concrete viaducts, and its expansion into China’s seismically active southwest.

See also Bradsher’s recent report on the much slower freight trains re-carving a niche across Eurasia.