High-speed rail­way lines have rev­o­lu­tion­ized China travel

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Manav Keel­ing Page Edi­tor: duqiong­fang@glob­altimes.com.cn

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.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Lu Ting/GT

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