How China built the world's largest express train network in a decade

How China built the world's largest express train network in a decade

In China there are now around 30,000 kilometers of tracks for express trains. That is about twice as much as in the rest of the world combined. Especially in the east of the country, almost all major cities can now be reached quickly and easily by train. Particularly impressive in this context: The Chinese government has only been investing heavily in the expansion of the route network for around ten years. However, other countries with similar goals were significantly less successful. So Barack Obama actually wanted to massively expand the express train network in the United States. However, these plans were only implemented rudimentarily. Reason enough to take a closer look at what is behind the expansion of the railroad in China.

China's high-speed network is barely 10 years old. Photo: G category high speed train, Beijing West Railway Station, China , Fabio Achilli, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

The motivation: that's why China invests in express train routes

The successful expansion would not have been possible without strong political leadership. Therefore, the question should be asked why the Chinese government was so involved on this point. As is so often the case, a whole bunch of reasons are responsible. First of all, good transport links can help to ensure the unity of a country. Constant exchange prevents individual regions from developing independently of one another – which can eventually lead to the country breaking apart. This is one of the reasons why a fast train now goes to Ürümqi, where the massively oppressed Uyghurs live.

At the same time, the government has defined rail technology as one of the sectors in which Chinese companies are to assume a leading position worldwide. The money invested in the railroad also served to make the "China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC)" the largest rail vehicle manufacturer in the world. But of course, the economy of a country also benefits from fast and inexpensive transport options. The expansion of the route network is also a kind of economic promotion. The aspect of climate protection has also been added, especially in recent years. The railways have the potential to significantly reduce CO2 emissions in the transport sector.

The success factors: A lot of money and planning security

The World Bank has also taken a closer look at the express train network in China . In doing so, they identified an often overlooked success factor. The Chinese government adopted a route expansion plan for the first time in 2004. Since then it has only been modified twice. For companies and authorities, this means enormous planning security. In addition, less work is invested in projects that are then not implemented. Standardization is also made easier. This is one of the reasons why a kilometer of express train routes in China can be built around a third cheaper than in the rest of the world. But the cost is still $ 17-21 million per kilometer. A prerequisite for a successful expansion of the rail network is therefore the willingness to invest a lot of money.

In China, the state ultimately takes on this task. Because the financing is usually provided by state banks. The state-owned company China Railways then takes over construction and operation. However, this has meanwhile accumulated an enormous mountain of debt. The liabilities now amount to 674 billion euros. A sum that many other countries simply cannot afford. The ticket prices alone cannot bring the money back in again. Because these are capped by the government. A ticket from Shanghai to Beijing, for example, costs only 71 euros in second class – which is extremely inexpensive for a distance of more than 1,300 kilometers. In any case, flights usually cost about twice as much. That is also why the offer is so well received by customers.

Not everything is going perfectly in China either

The World Bank found that at least 20 percent of the train drivers would have taken the plane without the new express trains. However, the carbon footprint is still very modest. The emissions from the transport sector could only be reduced by around two percent thanks to the new express train network. The background: the climate footprint of the railway always depends on the electricity mix used. If only renewable energies are used, the trips are emission-free. In China, however, mainly coal electricity is used. In this way, the train is still more climate-friendly than the plane. However, their full potential in this area is not being exploited. However, the Chinese government has already canceled the construction of numerous new coal-fired power plants and is instead pushing ahead with the expansion of renewable energies . In the future, the climate footprint of Chinese railways is likely to improve further.

Via: The mirror

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