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High-speed rail in China and its impact on cars

Published June 19, 2011

In 2018 China Car Times was acquired by Autowise. This article originally appeared on ChinaCarTimes.com.

The world’s fastest production train: 486 km/h (302 mph)

China is about to start commercial operation of their newest high-speed rail line, the Beijing-Shanghai line. The 1318 km (819 mi) long line is the worlds longest and will feature Chinese-made rolling stock. China Railways CRH380A is capable of zipping through at speeds of up to 380 km/h (236 mph), which would make this also the worlds fastest line. The maximum speed is currently at 300km/h (186 mph), but is set to increase to 350km/h in a near future.

The Beijing-Shanghai line alone is comparable (in length) to the entire German HSR network, but is just part of Beijings plan to create a network that will serve 250 cities and span 30,000km (18,600 mi) by 2020. China has invested some $350 billion on the network, which has now some 5,500km of routes (plus upgraded sections of older railways, which would bring the total to over 8,000km). Operation of the first line began four years ago (2007).

China already has a huge highway network, the second largest in the world and expanding just as fast as the HSR network so why build a redundant system? There is a lot of criticism, like high ticket prices. However, what many are overlooking is the potential to keep people from buying and using their cars. Besides carrying passengers, with new high speed railways, freight traffic can also use what were passenger lines, taking trucks off the road. Chinas freight transport by rail is still very inefficient if compared to the one in America.

China plans to have some 30,000 km (18,600 mi) of high speed rail by 2020

Estimates on car ownership in China vary, but they range from 20 to 120 cars per 1000 people. The US number is around 750. With a population 4x bigger, imagine how disastrous it would be if car ownership in China came anywhere close to American levels. In the U.S., high-speed rail will most likely be a failure with the exception of (perhaps) very few lines because of the extreme reliance on automobiles.

U.S. cities already invest more in their mass transit systems than on their highways, yet they still serve less than 5% of the population. Taking people off their cars in the U.S. wont be easy; it is almost a necessity to own a car in America. China has the chance to stop this from happening by building a better public transportation infrastructure before it is too late. Metros in urban areas and the national HSR network will be important in reducing traffic congestion in China, which is already at alarming levels in many of the larger cities.

High speed trains are faster than cars, more practical than airplanes and more efficient than both. Whats not to like?

WARNING: The origin of the technology behind the CRH380A does not pertain to the discussion and any comments regarding it will be seen as inflammatory and deleted.

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