Inside China’s High Speed Rail Push: 70,000km Of Track By 2035

Tanya Taylor
China pushes to expand their high speed rail network to 70,000 kilometres in the next 12 years. The rail network is much more than a transport system – it also plays a crucial role in China’s financial growth and economy.
High speed train waiting at a station in Beijing, China
A bullet train waiting at a station in Beijing. Photo: hiurich granja on Unsplash

China is home to over 40,000 kilometres (24,854 miles) of High Speed Rail (HSR) tracks, more than the rest of the world combined. They have made exceptional progress since launching the network in 2008 and are now global leaders in the industry. 

In 2022, China had over 42,000 kilometres (26,100 miles) of tracks and a plan to build a further 2,500 this year. They aim to reach 50,000 Kilometres by 2025 and 70,000 by 2035. So, let’s look inside China’s high speed rail push.

Leaders In High Speed Rail

The Anqing-Jiujiang section of the Beijing-Hong Kong railway opened in 2021 and marked the completion of over 40,000 kilometres of the railway. China has 70 per cent of the global HSR tracks and the fastest trains, reaching 350 kilometres (217 miles) per hour. 

It’s a formidable achievement considering the service only began in 2008 with the Beijing – Tianjin line. Since then, China has invested 1 trillion dollars and created 50 per cent of its network in just the last five years. 

Initially, China used Japanese and European HSR technology to develop trains, but their methods quickly evolved. Now, they are industry leaders with contracts to produce HSR for other countries, and they build the fastest trains in the world. 

Driverless Trains

An urban elevated railway bridge in Tongzhou, China. Photo: logojackmowo Yao | Unsplash

China is the first country to develop autonomous or driverless trains, which travel 350 kilometres (217 miles) per hour. In 2019 they opened the Beijing to Zhangjiakou line, featuring the fastest driverless bullet trains.

According to CNN, the 174-kilometre (108 miles) line, with 10 stations, took just four years to construct and reduced the journey time from three hours to less than 60 minutes. 

China Daily reports that this year China also released plans for the CR450 train, which will operate at a passenger speed of 400 kilometres (248 miles) per hour and an experimental speed of 450 kilometres (279 miles) per hour. It will potentially be the most advanced model in the world.

Overcoming Obstacles

China has made incredible progress considering the country has vast areas of inhospitable terrains, such as frozen plains and deserts. CNN Travel reports that the HSR network has many elevated tracks and viaducts, spectacular long-span bridges and 100 Tunnels stretching over 10km.

In 2011, China learned crucial safety lessons when two trains collided and killed 40 people. However, there have been no significant incidents since. The network also lost billions due to Covid. According to Nikkie Asia, last year, the HSR debt was 890 billion dollars, around 5 per cent of China’s GDP. 

Investing In Economic Growth

Inside a HSR terminal in Guangzhou, China. Photo: hiurich granja | Unsplash

The HSR isn’t primarily a profitable enterprise – it’s a push to build economic growth. The HSR will comfortably transport large amounts of people, improve economic productivity by linking labour markets, and construction will provide many employment opportunities. 

The line will also provide China with energy independence and environmental stability through low-carbon transportation. HSR Is now more popular than flying and has more passengers than the airlines. The result is that airlines have reduced or terminated many regional flights.

Advanced railway systems usually take decades to complete, yet China has done it at an unprecedented rate of just a few years. China is also making steady technology advances – they aim to launch 13,000 low-orbit satellites to compete with Space X’s Starlink programme.


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