High-speed train in central China (Photo: Xinhua) It

is one of the most incredible developments in the history of the world in the last two decades. It took China 15 years to connect virtually every corner of its vast territory to a high-speed rail network. The exception is the western part of the country, where the Himalayas form a natural barrier. This is a nice revenge on Japan, which was the model for high-speed rail in the world at the time, with its network of Shinkansen trains.

In 2008, the network included only one high-speed line, the one linking Beijing to Tianjin, which was put into service for the Olympic Games and covered a distance of 131 km in 30 minutes. In 2020, the network will cover more than 37,000 km and will make it possible to link Hong Kong to Beijing or Shanghai in one go, as well as Urumqi to Xian or Chengdu to Beijing.

From 127 million passengers in 2008, the country has recorded, according to official figures, nearly 2.3 billion passengers in 2019. Some 4,000 train convoys criss-cross the country every day on 177 lines. The fastest train is the one between Shanghai and Beijing, running at an average speed of 317 km/h with peaks of 350 km/h. According

to

the UIC, the country is currently building nearly 15,000 km of additional lines, or 80 new routes. The country continues to plan for the longer term, with a target of 70,000 km of high-speed rail by 2035.

China’s technological mastery is now enabling the country to sell its know-how to the rest of the world. For example, it has just completed the construction of the line to Laos, thereby extending its rail network to the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Beijing is also involved in the construction of the high-speed train between Bangkok and northeastern Thailand, as an extension of the first high-speed train in Laos.

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Chinese know-how is also being exported to the rest of the world. Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Panama and Turkey have benefited or are benefiting from the largesse of the Chinese government’s “New Silk Roads” policy.

In Europe, China is investing in a future Budapest-Belgrade line. The nationalist governments of Hungary and Serbia have found a powerful economic ally in this. China is also involved in the construction of a future high-speed line between Moscow and Kazan in Russia. This represents a total investment worldwide of $143 billion, according to calculations by the Financial Times newspaper from 2017.