High-speed railway lines have revolutionized China travel
Beijing-Shanghai HighSpeed Railway Co, of which China Railway Corp (CRC) is the largest shareholder, has started to prepare for an IPO according to a recent report in Caixin. China’s railway sector has undergone rapid expansion in the past decade. As of 2017, China has 127,000 kilometers of tracks, 20 percent of which are high-speed lines, making it the world’s largest high-speed network.
However, as Caixin writes, this massive development has led to the operator accumulating 5 trillion yuan ($750 billion) in debt, according to CRC, up from 4.7 trillion yuan a year before. Hence the need for an IPO. In fact, the BeijingShanghai line, which started operations in 2011, is one of the country’s few high-speed routes that have turned a profit, according to Caixin, with revenue of 23.4 billion yuan.
The first time I ever took a train in China – from Beijing down to Shanghai – in 2004, the trip was a grueling 24 hours. At that time, a flight between the two cities was very expensive, making the railway the only affordable alternative.
But it required either sitting upright in a cheap hard-seat for a day and a night, during which you had to endure round-the-clock light, noise and foot traffic in the aisle, or paying a couple hundred yuan more for a hard-sleeper – which were like very small dormitories consisting of six beds and 12 stinky feet. Those unlucky enough to get stuck with the bottom bunk had to share it with your dorm-mates during the day.
Compare that experience with the one I had last Thursday riding a new high-speed train from Shanghai to Beijing. The entire trip took a mind-blowing four hours, which meant I was able to conduct my affairs and get back to Shanghai before midnight the same date!
Each way, I had a comfortable reclining chair, clean toilets, quiet aisles and food service – all in the “economy class” section. I can only imagine what the first-class carriage is like! A one-way ticket from Beijing to Shanghai is only around 600 yuan – making the line not only faster and more convenient but far more affordable than an airplane.
Earlier in July, the longest highspeed train in the world went into service on the Shanghai-Beijing line, just ahead of the summer travel rush. According to shine.cn, the 16-carriage Fuxing high-speed train, which departs from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station, is 415 meters long and offers 1,193 seats. The extended trains also have more first-class and business-class seats than their shorter counterparts.
Designed and manufactured in China, the Fuxing (“Rejuvenation”) debuted in June of 2017. One year later, 41.3 million passenger trips had been made on the line, with the highest single-day seat occupancy rate of 97.6 percent, according to Xinhua News Agency.
For non-passenger lines, China is also doing big things with its inland routes. Industrial cargo and machinery from western Chinese factories are now being transported via a railway network known as the Southern Transport Corridor (STC) to Qinzhou port in South China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. According to straitstimes.com, compared with the traditional route via the Yangtze River to Shanghai port, STC cuts transit time within China from more than two weeks to just two days.
Additionally, second-tier cities along China’s high-speed rail lines have attracted increased real estate investment inflow from nearby cities, as improved connectivity encourages people to separate the workplace from the home. “The economic benefits of improved accessibility for these peripheral cities have come in the form of increased consumption flows,” Asia Times wrote in a July report.
But what the Chinese mainland needs are direct, high-speed rail links into Hong Kong from China’s regional hubs, namely Shanghai, Beijing and Chongqing. This would replace our age-old reliance on having to catch flights to Hong Kong and significantly ease congestion at China’s major airports, in turn making CRC a force to be reckoned with when it comes to cross-border business and leisure travel.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.