Why China can make such great progress in high-speed rail

The high-speed rail (HSR) is the superstar of China's development in the recent decade.

The trains run almost three times faster than the speed limit of a regular expressway in the country and passengers don't even need to drive.

Besides the high speed, the trains are also stable and equipped with a 4G network. This last characteristic is a big advantage when comparing the service to airplanes since in the transportation method satellite internet can't be used. What's more, trains tickets are usually one-third of the price of their aerial counterparts. 

That makes the HSR service affordable and attractive for the general population. More than nine billion trips were made using the high-speed bullets.

The interior of an HSR train /VCG Photo

The interior of an HSR train /VCG Photo

But how can China, a developing country, build such a large and sophisticated rail network in such a short time?

First, since ancient times, China is good and has a history of building megaprojects, like the Great Wall for national defense or the Grand Canal, a vast waterway system running from Beijing to Zhejiang province in the south. More recently, the country became the third country to land rovers on the Moon. So, it's no surprise that China can lay down a nation-wide rail network. 

Second and more importantly, the scientific and technological capabilities of China increased dramatically in the recent decade. When China first launched its electric multiple unit (EMU) "Hexie" trains, they mostly had German-based technology. But HSR technology is essentially from China.

Chinese HSR companies have filed a vast amount of tech patterns and built their locomotives, which have about four percent less drag than the EMUs - that's 600 gigawatts of electricity every year since China's train network is so large.

CGTN Picture

CGTN Picture

Lastly, China's HSR is a nation-wide project with unified standards across the entire network. This can save work and time. 

China is larger than the U.S. in terms of land area. If each province in the country had different standards, that would make cross-province trains almost impossible and passengers may need to transfer during travel.  Not to mention the difficulties in the construction process of the network.

A lot of people outside of China question the country's decision to build such a big and costly network. The country had a similar internal discussion when the EMUs were introduced. But today, even those that once were against faster trains might have a different opinion after experiencing how impressive the new trains can be.

(Article by Gong Zhe)