China High-Speed Rail

High-Speed Rail in China

» We can learn a lot when we compare.

In the United States, perhaps because of our geographical isolation from Europe and Asia, we have a tendency to ignore the successes of other nations, focusing instead on our own society as the be-all-end-all, even when we have been outmatched by our foreign peers. There is little doubt that the United States is frequently miserably slow at updating its infrastructure, but we do not bring up international competition in the interest of bashing those manifest failings; rather, the accomplishments of other countries demonstrate what we, too, can achieve as others have already.

It is with this in mind that we consider, once again, high-speed rail, a transport technology that we in America have been notoriously bad in implementing. For the most part, we have  laid back as Japan, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, South Korea, and Taiwan have developed incredibly speedy train networks and redefined mobility in their respective nations. But nowhere has the pursuit of the progress made possible by faster railways been as enthusiastic as in China, whose vigorous construction effort is unmatched.

Indeed, China has embarked on the second largest public works program in history, following only the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System in size. China plans to spend more than $1 trillion on expanding its railway network from 78,000 km today to 110,000 km in 2012 and 120,000 km in 2020. The Interstate Highway System was originally authorized to be 66,000 km long, but has expanded past that goal to 75,000 km today. The two nations are of basically equivalent size, and this means that China, which already has a passenger rail network about the size of our highway system, will be practically doubling its mileage of intercity connections.

China’s goal is to reshape its landscape around train services to a similar degree that the Interstates have reshaped the American one.China Versus United States High Speed Rail

Perhaps the most audacious element of China’s rail investment is its goal to invest in 13,000 km of high-speed rail by 2020. The Chinese are investing in two major track types: very high-speed rail, for trains traveling at 350 kph (220 mph); and typical high-speed rail, for trains traveling at 200-250 kph (125-155 mph). The latter tracks would be shared with regional, commuter, and freight trains, while the former would be reserved for high-speed trainsets alone.

As the map demonstrates, there are four main corridors being readied for very high-speed rail: Beijing-Hong Kong; Beijing-Shanghai; Xuzhou-Lanzhou; and Shanghai-Changsha. Since the vast majority of China’s population is located near its eastern coast, the majority of the country’s large cities would be well served by the network. The Beijing-Hong Kong line would be the largest single element of the system, at more than 1,000 miles long. As the “what we can learn” chart at the top of the page demonstrates, building a high-speed rail line in the United States as long as this would mean, for example, building a brand new line between Boston and Miami.

China is staking much of its economy in the construction of this rail system – the investment in intercity rail is the largest element in the country’s stimulus plan designed to counter the effects of the increasingly devastating recession. The country recognizes the benefit of increasing the speed of travel in the country. It also is acting to fulfill the demands for mobility of its growing middle class not by emphasizing super-highways but instead by building railways.

The 13,000 km of high-speed rail that China expects to have ready in eleven years is a big number: it’s the biggest fast train expansion in the world. An intelligent observer, however, might suggest that Spain, much smaller in land size, has an even more ambitious goal: 10,000 km planned by 2020. Indeed, Spain’s program is indeed quite impressive, and we hope to discuss it soon on the transport politic. If China were to embark on a project proportional in landmass, it would have to be 190,000 km long; in proportion to population, it would have to be 290,000 km. Spain’s high-speed rail program is enormous for its geographic and population size.

China’s specific program provides a better example for us to follow in the United States, however, because of the similar geographical size of the two countries, and because of the relative modesty of the current U.S. rail system, which will require decades to get back into shape. As a result, a program of China’s relative scale seems far more manageable and appropriate for comparison than one similar to Spain’s.

But the other reason China’s rail network design makes sense is that it will also take advantage of existing and slower-speed tracks, which represent the vast majority of the country’s total passenger rail mileage. Spain has a concrete disadvantage here because its regular trains operate on broad gauge tracks, while its high-speed trains, eventually to be incorporated into the European network, operate on standard gauge tracks; trains can’t easily operate on both. This means that trains can’t leave the high-speed network and use regular speed tracks, as is true in France, Italy, or Germany, for instance. This is a major nuisance.

China’s system, on the other hand, leaves open the use of the high-speed tracks for trains originating from or arriving at stations or cities without high-speed service. In other words, a train could, for example, leave Nanning in South China on slow tracks, travel to Guangzhou, and then continue to Beijing on high-speed tracks. This interoperability makes trips shorter for everyone, because a passenger traveling from Nanning to Beijing would not have to either transfer at Guangzhou to another train or take the entire trip on slow tracks, nor does the government have to invest in a high-speed line from Guangzhou to Nanning in order for passengers from Nanning to take advantage of the high-speed system!

Take a similar example from a future United States: a passenger wants to travel from Dayton, Ohio to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But, in order to economize, only a track section from Chicago to Indianapolis, Indiana has been converted to high-speed rail operation. No matter! A passenger could take a train from Dayton to Milwaukee, via Indianapolis and Chicago, traveling at a slower speed for the first and last sections of the journey, and accelerating to top speeds between Indianapolis and Chicago. The passenger still would take advantage of a major time reduction over the existing rail system, even though both his arrival and destination city are not on the high-speed rail network.

China’s example, then, demonstrates how an efficient and useful high-speed rail system can be implemented in a very large country such as the United States:

  • A large regional passenger rail network, operating at low-to-medium speeds (60-90 mph), must serve most of the country, reaching almost all destinations. This network could operate on cheaply upgraded freight track, which we in the United States are privileged to have in abundance.
  • A select few main lines, operating at high speeds (150-220 mph), should serve the country’s largest cities only, and the cities well positioned in between. This network would have to be built at great expense and virtually from scratch.
  • Trains must be able to operate on both types of track, so that trains can take advantage of high-speed segments, but can also serve smaller destinations not directly on high-speed lines.

China’s decision to invest in about 42,000 km in passenger rail lines, with only about a quarter of that going to high-speed lines, makes sense seen from this perspective. It allows cities throughout the nation to benefit directly from rail service, with all cities getting at least some rail and the larger cities getting fast rail.

It would be a mistake in the United States to only focus on high-speed rail, because ultimately, as budgets inevitably tighten, it would mean investment in fewer of the nation’s cities than would an equivalent sum invested in standard-speed railways. We simply cannot afford high-speed rail to every city in the country. But an integrated network, with a concentration on providing a few, high-demand high-speed routes and many standard-speed routes, would be a better bang for the buck. This Chinese example we would do well to emulate.

Map updated 16 December 2012.

98 replies on “High-Speed Rail in China”

Thanks so much for this informative post. I’ve been looking for months for such a comprehensive analysis of Chinese rail developments.

I like how you stressed the word “network” when discussing growth of the American rail system. We cannot afford to continue developing route by route in a piecemeal fashion without an idea of what the bigger vision is. An integrated rail network is key to unlocking the full value of passenger rail.

Building a rail system in the States just won’t work. In countries like Japan and China, there are great transportation networks within cities and so people take public transportation. In the U.S., even if you took a high-speed rail line to a city, you would need to rent a car (in most cities) in order to get around to the destinations you want to get to.

How does that differ from air travel nowadays? HSR is designed, in many cases, to serve trips where driving is a major inconvenience–in particular, trips which would require driving all day, or a hotel stay en route.

I am surprised the Chengdu – Chongqing to Shanghai line isn’t a thick major line. Lots of big population centers on that run and seems more important than the east-west line north of it.

Good article. You state that high-speed trains cannot run outside dedicated tracks in Spain. In fact, that is not true; both Talgo and CAF have designed and manufacture trains that can operate on different gauge tracks, with just a 5-min automatic wheel adjustment.

Diego –
You’re right that Spain uses many trains with variable gauge axles. However, those trains are limited to a maximum 250 km/h, not the 300 km/h that is the new standard for true high-speed.
That said, 250 km/h is still faster than any train in the U.S., so maybe I’m just being unfair.


you are right. However, speed limits are not due to technology, but economic reasons. There is just no point in having a 350km/h train run through non-high-speed tracks, where they cannot exceed 180 km/h. As far as I know, this doesn’t happen not only in Spain, but in any European country (but for really short tracks).

Anyway, have you heard about Talgo Avril? It will be the fastest high-speed wheel train (380km/h in commercial use), yet it will have variable gauge axles.

Right then, to start I’m an enthusiastic supporter of high-speed rail and I have lived in both Japan and China and have made extensive use of the railways there. But the idea that the Chinese system could be applied to the United States with any where near the same expected use profile is absolutely laughable. Chinese trains suffer from chronic, hours-long delays having to share lines with freight trains and the like. Moreover, Americans simply wouldn’t tolerate 30 hour train trips from major city to city (I have taken 2 or 3 of those). This is among other rejective criticisms I have.

Ultimately though, as citizens of a highly-industrialized nation with a well-developed airline infrastructure to cover long-haul trips Americans it’s simply not feasible unless fantastically cheap. And the trains in china, even the old ones aren’t THAT cheap in terms of Chinese purchasing power. $70(450Yuan) to get to the equivalent of Baltimore to Miami is a lot of money for normal chinese, ramp up appropriately for the American market and I think you’ll find airlines competing very effectively in terms of cost to the consumer. If you want to build an effective rail network in America, you need it to go as fast as possible, with economically feasible rates. But for true long haul, like from New York to SF, which normal chinese do normally, is going to pretty much just be the domain of the airlines in our country for a very long time to come.

At least until maybe 550mph maglev rolls around, but the airlines will still beat that out I’m sure.

The Chinese railway development is for CHINA ONLY and not for any other country ( US included ) to imitate or despise. China has the resources and infrastructure for building a gigantic railway network and that suits their country and people, no matter how much time is involved in travel from one destination to other. Each country has its own characteristic features and they can follow whatever suits them.


nobody here is talking about 30-hour train trips. The fact that you can drive your car on a highway from NY to SF doesn’t mean it was built for that purpose.

We are talking about making a 2-hour trip from LA to SF, a 2-hour trip from NY to Washington, a 2-hour trip from Tampa to Miami, etc. Or a 50-min ride from Philadelphia to NY, from San Diego to LA, etc. These travel times will be cut to 1h20min and 35min, respectively, by 2025.

Rail travel provides the most comfortable and fastest transportation for distances up to 750 km. As technology improves, it will provide the most competitive transportation for distances up to 1000 km in a decade, 1250 km in 2 decades from now, etc. As it will take you about 20 years to build a comprehensive system once a decision has been taken, I think you will do better if you think on the long-term benefits.

On Maglev trains… they just aren’t any faster than high-speed wheeled rail trains. Maglev speed record is 581 km/h, high-speed wheeled rail speed record is 576 km/h.

Take Spain, for example. Maximum speed in operation for high-speed trains is 350 km/h, though commercial trains have proved capable of speeds over 400 km/h. However, new rail tracks have been designed to support speeds up to 500 km/h once technology is ready. That’s the meaning of a long-term vision.

Right. You’d still take a plane (unless you are scared to death of flying) for the long distance stuff. The larger and more interconnected you build a network, the more use it gets. There are numerous useful legs in this network and in the visions for a US HSR network.

A HSR network across the USA will work (emphasis on network). It will be economical, more comfortable and it will be competitive.
Adding to that, public transport as a whole can work together as they do in Europe to make your travel experience as comfortable and quick as possible. As air travel goes today, if HSR were an alternative it would most definitely be used.

Good article.

The information on China’s planned HSR is a little out of date. With the country going crazy about HSR and Chinese government spends huge amount as part of the stimulus program, both the scale and schedule have been substantially updated:

* Instead of 2020, China will complete its national HSR network by 2015, when 16,000 km passenger-dedicated lines (PDL) of HSR will be built.

* The HSR network map in the article is old. The network contains 4 north-south main lines and 4 east-west main lines:

The four north-south main lines:
1. Beijing – Shanghai 350 km/h
2. Beijing – Guangzhou – Hong Kong 350 km/h
3. Shanghai – Hangzhou – Shenzhen
4. Beijing – Shengyang – Harbin (branch Shengyang – Dalian) 350 km/h

The four east-west main lines:
5. Qingdao – Jinan – Shijiazhuang – Taiyuan 250 km/h
6. Xuzhou – Zhengzhou – Xian – Lanzhou 350 km/h
7. Shanghai – Nanjing -Wuhan – Chongqing – Chengdu 200 – 350 km/h
8. Shanghai – Hangzhou – Changsha – Kunming 350 km/h

Aside from the above, a few other inter-regional lines are also planned:

9. Xian – Chengdu 350 km/h
10. Beijing – Bengbu – Fuzhou – Taipei 350 km/h

* Several regional intercity HSR are either unde construction or planned. These are separate lines from the long-haul HSR above.

1. Peral River Delta region: Guangzhou – Shenzhen – Zhuhai – Hong Kong

2. Yangtze River Delta region: Shanghai – Nanjing – Hangzhou – Ningbo

3. Bohai Basin Rim region: Beijing – Tianjing – Tangshan

4. Chengdu – Chongqing corridor

5. Wuhan region

I agree with Kyle G. that “network” should be emphasized in order for HSR to provide end-to-end transportation needs. In fact, several dozens of Chinese cities are building or planning to build metro networks too.

So within 10 years, we should see three types of rail network emerging in China: the metro system within cities, the regional intercity express rail network and the national high speed rail network.


the poster mentions an “inter-regional line”:
10. Beijing – Bengbu – Fuzhou – Taipei 350 km/h

There are 2 points to be noted here:
1/ Taipei is not in China, it is the capital city of Taiwan. Therefore, Fuzhou-Taipei would be an international rather than an inter-regional line.
2/ Taiwan is an island, across a 220 km strait from Fuzhou, therefore while a tunnel may be feasible, it is more likely that the Fuzhou-Taipei leg has simply been added on to the plan as part of the PRC government’s ongoing propaganda campaign to convince the rest of the world that it has some claim to ruling Taiwan (which obviously, it doesn’t).

China might try to build a great tunnel like that there really is nothing saying they can’t do it. It could be done with enought money and time and China has plenty of money and resources to do it. I remember seeing on several websites on other parts of the internet Japan wanted to dig a Tunnel to south Korea at one time this might be one of those dreams like it.

The Wikipedia article on the planned system has been updated with a lot of new routes. Can you please update this map?

It’d be really interesting to see the routes superimposed on a map of the US, approximating like for like distances between city pairs. (I’m only suggesting as I love the maps on this site, Yonah, and it would really put it in context to compare it with even the most optimistic plans for HSR in the US.).

What percentage is now slated for 220mph sevice? It looks like more than half of the 13,000km. Phenomenal.

Thanks for updating the route map. China’s high-speed rail plan and construction change rapidly. The country’s mid- and long-term railway plan approved in 2004 called for total of 120,000 km railway by 2020, yet the plan was revised last year to accelerate the completion schedule and current the plan is for completion of 110,000 km railway by 2012.

There are a few errors in the map, most notably:

1. The Harbin – Dalian line currently under construction since 2007 and is expected to complete by the end 2011.

2. The Beijing – Shijiazhuang – Wuhan line was started late last year and is expected to complete in 2012.

3. Nanjing – Hangzhou line (350 km/h) was started Dec., 2008 and is expected to complete in 2011

4. Shanghai – Hangzhou (350 km/h) was started in Feb., 2009 and is expected to complete in 2010 during the World Expo next year in Shanghai.

5. Hangzhou – Ningbo line (350 km/h) was started in April, 2009 and is scheduled to complete in 2012

6. Xiamen -Shenzhen line (250 km/h) is currently under construction and is expected to be in 2011.

See for information on some of the above lines.

2012 will be a milestone year, when all the lines started this year and before will be completed and the national network will be taking shape.

This high speed rail system is good in that it will keep hunderds of thousands of cars off the road in China and let large numbers of people move around safely.

National Geographic made a speical book called state of the Earth in 2050 and the places were these new rail lines acording to the book said that this section of the Earth will be section with the most people living in it pur square mile on the China coast in 2050 and now. If this high speed rail system was not built there would tens of millons of more cars on the road.

“The Shrinking of China” (

A generally good report on high-speed rail revolution in China and the likely impact on China’s economic, social and political evolution, except the last part of the report which links the high-speed rail to multi-party democracy – a bit too far-fetched, IMHO.

I don’t find that report good at all. It makes it look like linking the country’s richest cities by HSR will promote more equal development. It even tries to talk of the Pearl River Delta and Yangtze River Delta as undeveloped hinterlands to be integrated by HSR; in fact, those regions are uniformly rich, and some of the cities described in the article, such as Suzhou, have per capita incomes on a par with those of relatively poor Western nations such as Portugal.

The Wikipedia article lists an incredible 19 intercity high speed railway systems under construction. These megalopolis rail systems are another comprehensive layer to the all out assault in China on cars.

Is it possible to represent these systems in the map as circular outlines?

I’m sure you must be sick of requests for improvements on your map but that map serves a valuable purpose as the only English source for easily understanding the sweeping changes happening in China. When these developments become more apparent, people are going to pay attention.

But alas, the Chinese are building a national highway network at breakneck speed as well, and it will in all likelihood surpass our own interstate highways by 2015. So the Chinese will have the high speed rail and the highway network too. It’s sad to see that by 2020, our transport infrastructure, if continued to be neglected, will look decidedly decrepit by comparison. I don’t suppose the Chinese bankers will send a few more trillion dollars our way so we too can upgrade the very sinews of our economy?

This also shows the destruction of the eletric railroads in the US when you go though Mayland and Pennsyvinia you see far more catenary masts with their wires ripped off then working. With out catenary a train can’t go faster then a 110 miles on hour. Also If the US were to add more eletric catenary wires to the tracks we would easlly pass Chinia in the number of high speed rail lines under wire.

To Ocean Railroader: Most of the derelict electrification concerned freight lines or yards.

Maybe in the US, diesel operated trains are not going faster than 110 mph, but in the UK, 125 mph (200 km/h) has been normal for decades, using the HST trainsets, and nowadays, the top speeds of some new DMUs may be even higher.

The German ICE-TD trainsets were designed for 230 km/h (but do not much more than 200 km/h for the Danish State Railways).

However, I agree that this is kind of the limit, because you will need some 20 or more kW per tonne to operate at these speeds, and with that, you will run into a space and weight problem.

I have been to many countries, including most cities in Europe, the United States, Southeast Asia, and Japan, I am more down, the best railway system no longer in Europe and Japan, and in what areas? Maybe you do not believe, but it is a fact, I tell you, in China, is that you have been thinking very backward country. China’s high-speed railway is almost half the world’s total.

At present the German high-speed rail operating speed of 300 km, 270 km in Japan in general. In addition, Japan also has 360 km / h high-speed rail line planning, is expected to be completed and put into operation a few years later.
In addition, China’s comprehensive ability to overtake them. Xu Ke-liang said: If we say that China’s ‘line’ (mainly motorcycles) is to take the ‘introduction, assimilation,’ the road, then the line works (mainly construction) is created by the Chinese themselves a complete system standards. China’s high-speed rail through the local geological difficult to cross the 60-meter deep underwater Liuyang River, but also from the more than 70 meters high across the valley and other areas, geological difficulty of the decision of China’s high-speed rail line efforts.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke has said that the development of high-speed railway in China has made remarkable achievements in recent years, the United States lagged behind in this field in China, Japan and some European countries. United States hopes to learn from China in the field of advanced high-speed railway technology, and China can learn from the United States in rail freight equipment, internal combustion engine in advanced technologies.

Guangzhou Wuhan high speed rail will be in service from 12/26/2009.
The distance between Guangzhou and Wuhan is about 1000km. The new high speed rail will cut travel time from Guangzhou to Wuhan from 10 hours to 3 hours.

I live in 60km northeast of Tokyo, Japan.

In Japan, opposite of Spain, only Shinkansen and few rail are 1435mm standard gauge and most of the other rail are 1067mm narrow gauge. Because Japan is mountainous country.

I’m envious of China. Japan’s Tokaido Shinkansen is based on technology of 1950s. From this reason, rail track of Tokaido Shinkansen is capable of 270km/h. 350km/h is impossible. The distance of Wuhan-Guangzhou is 1069km and the fastest train takes 3 hour 8 minute. It is same length of Tokyo-Hakata. Now, the fastest train takes 4 hour 51 minute from Hakata to Tokyo.

The disadvantage of interoperability is that, one train’s delay influences other train widely. From this reason, in Japan, Shinkansen toward the east, Shinkansen toward the north and standard-speed lines are completely separetaed each other.

Does China have the plan that freight train runs at 200km/h or higher? In Japan, most of freight selects highway not train. Because highway truck and freight train run at same speed 100km/h. As a result, problems about CO2 emission, traffic noise, overwork of truck driver and other have occur.

Yuichi, in Spain, too, the high speed rail network has a different gauge from the conventional network; in this case, the regular network has a wider gauge (1668 mm). There are, however, several gauge-changing trains, allowing to extend the high speed connections to not (yet) connected places.

The US already had the greatest rail network in history–a hundred years ago. Then we replaced it with the best road network and the best air network. We still have a very good freight rail network–far better than Europe or Japan or China. In Europe they have trucks everywhere, why because they transport about twice as much freight by truck as the US. One of your commentators says the same thing about Japan. Rails are best used to transport freight; air is faster and cars are more flexible for passengers.

We already built three massive transportation networks in 120 years, so naturally people are in no rush to build a fourth. Have no fear, if it is truly needed it will get built!

You’re obviously living under the delusional guise of American exceptionalism. We have transitioned into a global society and you can’t “mark” your superiority with achievements from long lost years. America has centralized their resources on pre-emptive wars and defense (ie..ineffective stealth fighter jets) as other industrialized nations are investing in advanced rail technology, research and development, modernized infrastructure projects and technical advancements to promote efficiency in their healthcare systems. Your mentality impedes the progress of our nation if we’re going to compete globally in the 21st century. Instead of borrowing trillions of dollars from China to wage two unproductive wars, America should have initiated a modern day revolution in its major industries including transportation, education, healthcare, energy, infrastructure, etc…

USA: no, in Europe they transport half again as much freight by truck as in the US, not twice as much (link). The main difference in freight between the US and Europe/Japan isn’t just rail freight, but also sea freight: heavy freight goes by sea in Europe and Japan, but in the US it goes on rail because the country has two coasts.

Diego said:

“On Maglev trains… they just aren’t any faster than high-speed wheeled rail trains. Maglev speed record is 581 km/h, high-speed wheeled rail speed record is 576 km/h.”

The maglev speed record is repeatable on a passenger-carrying prototype service, the steel-wheel record was a short once-off racecar burst of speed that ripped up the track and the catenary power feeds as it ran. Practical steel-wheel speeds used for passenger-carrying services look to top out at 350km/hr or so. The planned Japanese maglev link between Tokyo and Nagoya will run at 500km/hr to start with and may reach 800km/hr and more as new equipment is developed and introduced.

Untii 16/3/2010, China has a total 6552 Km high speed rail done for commercial operation.(New lines+ old lines upgrated). Ranked NO 1 in the world.

Official statistics from MOR,China.

1.New lines : 3676 KM

A: 350KM Speed: 1694 KM.(Pekin-Tianjin, Wuhan-Canton, Zhengzhou-Xi’an)
B: 250KM Speed : 1982 KM (Hefei-Nanking, Hefei-Wuhan,etc.Total 7 short lines)

2.Under Constrcution: More than 10,000 KM (Pekin-Shanghai,Harbin-Dalin Pekin-Shijiazhuang,etc) .All
will be done on 2012.

3.Existing old line upgraded to 200-250KM Speed since 04/2007: 2876KM.(old Pekin-Harhin,old Pekin-Shanghai,etc)

Sorry but this is unsustainable because of several facets. One the Chinese system is too new and is nothing more than cobbled together pieces of stolen technology. Second HSR cannot share rails with anything other than itself. It is a recipe for track failure and cannot be tolerated. If in China they do, I for one would not want to travel on their trains then.

In fact this issue is precisely why tomorrow I am going to set standing so I can sue the HSR because of bad faith negotiations with Union Pacific. Union Pacific has the best routes. Yet, it is nothing more than having to not service the politically offered areas and instead service more of the general public. We voted to get Hi Speed Rail but what we got was a Governor appointed special interest groups to head it up and not a single person from the rail industry was included. We have over 100 years of rail expertise in this country yet we hired stupid politicians to head the HSR. Well as a A grade law student, they get my wrath tomorrow. The EIR is a mess and I intend to keep it that way until we get some real RR engineering into the HSR.

Second HSR cannot share rails with anything other than itself.

Wrong. In every standard-gauge country with HSR, HSR trains extensively use legacy lines to reach destinations that do not have dedicated HSR lines yet, including the city center stations. Sometimes, low-speed trains get to use high-speed tracks, as long as traffic is low enough to prevent capacity problems. In Germany almost the entire ICE network is on legacy rail, and there’s a medium-speed commuter service in Bavaria using the HSR line. In France and Korea, the initial HSR line was incomplete, running trains on legacy track for part of the way. Even countries with different gauges try to run HSR on legacy lines: Spain has gauge-change trains, and Japan regauged two legacy lines to allow HSR to run through at lower speed.

If you’re really as informed as the average California HSR opponent, then everything Robert Cruickshank says is true.

I second this statement. It is one of the big advantages of “classic” high-speed rail systems to be compatible with the regular network. That does allow for direct connections, using the high-speed lines as connectors. Japan (and Spain, originally) chose a different approach, which meant considerably higher initial investments, as the new lines had to be built new into the city centers. Spain had gauge-change technology for a long time (Talgo), and Japan is experimenting with gauge-change vehicles as well.

The other way round, conventional trains using the high-speed line, is way rarer, but it exists. The main hindrance is not gauge and electrification, but signalling. High-speed rail requires according signalling systems which is beyond the capabilities of “classic” signalling. (well, with ETCS Level 2, things are changing, but this system is by far not installed network-wide).

So, a conventional vehicle must have the high-speed line signalling equipment in order to operate on the high-speed lines. When this is given, there is nothing (except line capacity) hindering conventional trains using the high speed line. In fact, this is the for example the case between Mannheim and Stuttgart, where IC trains use the high-speed line … at a lower speed than ICEs (200 km/h instead of 220, 250 or 280 km/h).

@Max: I don’t think that signalling is the biggest problem. It’s maximum grade of track. Building it steeper is the easiest way to keep construction costs down by cutting the length of tunnels and viaducts, but it’s not practical to run loco-hauled trains beyond some grade. French standard 3.5 % or 4.0 % on NBS Köln-Frankfurt is well beyond it, while 2.0 % on Nürnberg–Ingolstadt–München is fine for Taurus-hauled IC/ECs.

@dejv: Well, it depends on how you look at it.

If you look at a specific unit (locomotive): if it has the necessary equipment, it may operate on the line, if it doesn’t, it may not operate at all, or definitely not as leading unit.

If you look at the loads to be hauled, it depends on what speeds and loads you find acceptable, and it will depend on the circumstances.

We could take an example with the rescue diesel units for the Köln-Frankfurt NBS. If I remember correctly, about a dozen or so Class 218 are equipped for the signalling. They may operate on the line, other Class 218 units are not allowed on that line. But do the allowed units operate regularly? No, they are used in emergencies, in order to pull a broken down ICE3 trainset off the line. And in this case, speed doesn’t matter that much. And yes, they operate in pairs, in order to get sufficient tractive force.

You mention Taurus-hauled IC/ECs… The ÖBB Railjets operate over 3% grades routinely (Arlberg) … but, of course, not at 200 km/h…

It CAN share track, but in the US, will the ever FRA allow it? The FRA is already the primary reason most of the $8B to be spent on HSR and HrSR is still sitting in DC. Even with the advocacy of Obama, Biden and LaHood, the FRA won’t budge and approve deals already done between the states and the railroads.

Mixing HSR with conventional traffic in terminal/urban areas makes HUGE sense, but I’m not optimistic it will ever happen here. Sigh….

There is also another 350 kmh line currently under construction since last December: Datong-Xi’an line.

On your map, it should be from Xi’an to Taiyuan, and then Taiyuan to Datong (your map doesn’t have Datong). The Xi’an-Taiyuan segment is the main part and is 350 kmh; the Taiyuan-Datong segment is lower-speed (200 kmh).

Here are a couple of references:

1. Wikipedia (
2. Skyscrapercity (post #305:
3. “Pöyry awarded EUR 8.7 million high-speed railway construction supervision contract in China” (

Note that sometimes there is confusion in the news about whether this is a 250 kmh or 350 kmh line. It is a 350 kmh for sure based on the specifications; the Ministry of Railways has adopted a lower profile these days when announcing high-speed rails – all 350 kmh lines are publicly stated as 250 kmh and above. It’s an open secret that they’re all 350 kmh lines.

The Beijing-Taiyuan-Xi’an-Chengdu-Guiyang-Guangzhou forms another North-South national trunk line.

Xi’an-Chengdu line is in the Mid- and Long- Term Railway Plan and had been approved for conducting feasibility study. The construction, though, won’t get started until the feasibility study is completed and approved by both Ministry of Railways (MOR) and National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). The timing of construction start is uncertain at this point.

The Chengdu-Chongqing high-speed rail has been under construction since January 2010 and will be completed in four years. This is a 350 kmh line

This line would be below (to the south) the Chengdu-Suining-Chongqing line you have on the map.

Some of the references in English:

1. High-Speed Rail to Shorten Chengdu-Chongqing Travel Time (

2. Construction starts on southwest China high-speed rail link (

3. Wikipedia (, see “Chengyu Passenger Line (Chengdu-Chongqing)”


“The Chengdu-Chongqing high-speed rail has been under construction since January 2010”

Should be “March 2010.”

Canada has no use for high speed rail! Failing population numbers, poorer employment figures and a shrinking Middle Class make Canada a land of a few elites that can afford SUV’s from the states for travel, in combination with planes for longer hauls. We have abundant oil from the Tar Sands and no fear of ever running out. Canada has actually decommissioned old rail lines in favor of rubber wheeled diesel freight – American style! In Canada you are either a part of the rich and growing upper class or you are living in poverty as part of the declining poor population! We are harvesters, miners drawers of water and farmers, dealing with natural resource exploitation and socialist welfare for all who fall between! We have little use for the accommodations of huge populations as our population is declining at shocking rates! Immigrants form high population countries are known to have returned out of loneliness, lack of business opportunities!
Canada for the most part is a cold, bleak, snow covered winter landscape for half of the year! We don’t bicycle in the – 30 Centigrade winter weather, save for a few fanatics! and we don’t go out of doors needlessly ether! Travel is restricted to times of year when roads are clear. Passenger rail has been reduced to near non-existent by attrition and sale of railway right-of ways for bicycle paths for the summer months. Highe speed rail – of no value for Canada!


Depends where you are in Canada, doesn’t it? The Corridor is most definitely booming in demand for trains, and indeed in population. Alberta actually wants rail from Calgary to Edmonton.

And as for your economic description, have you *visited* the US? Canada’s got *far* less divergence between upper and lower class than the US does.

A long update:

Chengdu-Lanzhou is u/c, 200km/h
Chongqing-Lanzhou is u/c, 200 km/h
Liuzhou-Nanning-Bose is u/c, 250 km/h
Bose-Kunming is u/c, 200 km/h
Qingdao-Yantai-Weihai is u/c, 250 km/h
Haikou-Sanya (east side of Hainan) is u/c, 250 km/h
Shenyang-Dandong is u/c, 250 km/h
Dalian-Dandong is u/c, 250 km/h
Jilin-Hunchun is u/c, 250 km/h
Harbin-Qiqihar is u/c, 300 km/h
Hangzhou-Jiande-Huangshan (meets the Hefei-Fuzhou line), u’c, 200 km/h
Ulanqab-Baotou is u/c, 250 km/h

And that’s the tip of the iceberg. A lot more lines are under planning and have been delayed by wrangling by politicians eager to see railway lines go through their fiefdoms. Greater still are regional railway systems being built around Zhengzhou, Wuhan, Changsha, and in Sichuan, the Yangtse Delta, the Pearl Delta, and the Bohai Gulf. It’s truly massive.

China is using their stimulus package of 200 billion US dollars to build an extensive high-speed railway system. New jobs are being created. Our present congress and administration is providing 8 billion dollars to explore high-speed rail service in the US. Congress has spent 80 billion dollars on intelligence gathering. What is wrong with this picture? President Eisenhower and his administration built the interstate highway system. It is time congress provides 80 billion dollars to build an interstate high-speed rail service in this country. Congress needs to create jobs for Americans.
The maglev system should have a consideration along with conventional high-speed rail. Maglev can go at speeds of three hundred mph. A high-speed rail from Atlanta Georgia to La needs to be built, NOW, a priority to be completed in four years!
Our present rail system and commuter lines need to be separate from high-speed rail. Freight lines and passenger service must be separate! Transcontinental service from Atlanta to LA should be built first. The use of high-speed rail is to connect adjoining cities. Interurban lines to Houston to San Antonio or Tucson, Phoenix and LA are a priority on this same service. We need, flying at ground zero, to bring the cities closer together. China knows this to enhance travel and commerce between cities for their population
Today’s economy may require city relocation to find work. Why? Someone in Tucson could find work in Phoenix and still live in Tucson. Now it means a possible two-hour drive in rush hour each way each day. On high-sped rail you could be there in twenty minutes.
It is time for new ideas here in the US.


Richard M Baum

What’s wrong with this picture? Add to it the *over 800 billion* dollars spent *each year* in the US on our military — it’s more than the sum total of military spending for the rest of the world *combined* — and I think that adds to the wrongness of the picture.

My sentiments exactly. The US government functions to serve corporate interests, thus, our funds are for DEFENSE only….Too bad other emerging and industrialized nations will far surpass us if we don’t transform our mindset and stop subscribing to the notions of yesteryear.

Another update:

Xiamen – Longyan – Ganzhou are u/c (not open), 200 km/h
Nanning – Liuzhou u/c, 250 km/h
Liuzhou – Hengyang u/c, 200 km/h
Wuhan – Jiujiang – Chizhou planned, 200 km/h
Shangqiu – Fuyang – Huainan planned, 350 km/h
Chaohu – Xuancheng – Huzhou planned, 350 km/h
Nanning – Qingzhou – Beihai/Fangchenggang u/c, 250 km/h
Jinhua – Lishui – Wenzhou u/c, 250 km/h

Of special note: tunnel from Fuzhou to Taipei is “planned”, and travel to/from Taiwan is skyrocketing as détente continues and economic relations gather pace. But the tunnel to Taiwan is such an obvious political propaganda tool I’m not sure how serious it is.

It’s said that by 2012 there will be 13,000km of high speed rail (I think that includes 200km/h upgraded lines).

And by 2020 there will be 16,000km.

But how many km is on this map?

Yonah – you might want to put a ‘last updated’ label on the map – though maybe not, as it looks like you’re going to be updating it every week at the rate China’s railroad-builders are going…

Yichang-Wanzhou opens

“A new railway project in China considered to be the most difficult and expensive to build costing about $3.41 billion has become operational today.”

“It took seven years and around 50,000 workers to drill 159 tunnels, build 253 bridges through a stretch of mountains on the eastern edge of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau to complete the 377 km route.

The length of track that runs through bridges and tunnels accounted for about 74 per cent of the line’s total track, official media here reported.

In the most extreme case, it took almost six years to drill a tunnel through Qiyue Mountain due to complex and dangerous geological conditions.”

Hainan East Ring Intercity Rail and Changchun-Jilin Intercity Rail openned on 12/30/2010.

Hainan East Ring Intercity Rail, length 308km, design speed 250km/h.

Changchun-Jilin Intercity Rail. length 111km, design speed 250km/h.

you seriously overstate the case:

it is easier to plan to build a new rail network when you have a population of a billion people, the majority of whom live in the eastern part of the country; plus, the chinese can just take any land they want on which to put the tracks, whereas in the eastern US, finding the land to build out a high speed rail network, with its requirement for long turns, is very, very difficult if not impossible.

go back to reporting local crime statistics.

The USA never will build a HSR network. We’ll just keep flying until the price of aviation fuel goes up and the value of the dollar and most people’s incomes goes down to the point where few can afford to fly and the airline system collapses. Then the US will crumble into a 3rd world country where hardly anyone is able to or can afford to travel anywhere.

How we got that way will undoubtedly be a great way to occupy one’s thoughts as one is digging potatoes in one’s front yard.

..Until the price of liquid petroleum based transportation fuel rises to the point that alternatives become economical. Natural gas and coal gasification, to name just two, can provide a stream of hydrocarbons to refineries that can be cracked, reformed and blended into any fuel you’d want.

Flying is currently cheaper than a Greyhound ticket was 30 years ago (inflation adjusted). Some increase in cost will just slow the growth of air passenger traffic a bit.

The sky is not falling. It’s just rain.

China is leaps and bounds ahead of the US when it comes to mass transit. Having visited China for 3 weeks in December, 2009, I got a chance to take a round-trip voyage on their existing high speed rail from Hangzhou to Bejing. It was an overnight train where we got up to speeds of 175mph, but at times, much slower due to traffic and towns. Outside our cabin window, you could see their new high speed rail system being built. It was entirely built from elevated rails, away from auto and pedestrian traffic. Huge construction equipment had to be created for this new rail system. China is well on its way to a high speed rail network second to none!

Great artical. But one important point I’d like to point out is that without building brand new rail lines, the US should be able to achieve 150 mph by upgrading existing lines. This will cost a fraction of a new line. The US has the worlds longest rails lines and most of it are built very early in the last centuries. This means that the lines are already very straight and therefore very easy to upgrade to high-speed rail. China decided to build new lines because its existing lines are already saturated and it needs it for cargo. The US rail lines are very under-utilized and by spending s little bit of moeny, they can be almost as good a new high-speed rail except for a few sharp turns where the trains have to slow down. But for the most part, it is easy to build and can operate cost effectively.

There are a few places we need new-build lines because the old lines are really old and curvy (Albany to Boston comes to mind).

However, in most places you’re right, we can get better results by upgrading old lines. The problem is that the “freight railroads” which have been allowed by the government to “own” the lines are behaving badly. We, the public, need to buy the lines back from them.

Some interesting news. In the Chinese media, railway officials over the last few months have stated that they have a firm goal of almost completing the high speed railway network by 2015. So it will just take 3 years. The old 2020 deadline is gone.

This will mean 18,000km of routes going faster than 200km/h, and 40,000 km of routes that go at 200km/h and faster.

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