Rail transport in the People's Republic of China

Rail transport in the People's Republic of China
Logo for China Railways

Rail transport is the most commonly used mode of long-distance transportation in the People's Republic of China. Almost all rail operations are handled by the Ministry of Railways, which is part of the State Council of the People's Republic of China. By the end of 2010, the operating rail network traverses the length and breadth of the country, covering a total length of 91,000 km (56,545 mi), making only the rail networks in the United States and Russia larger in size. As of 2009, Chinese Railway owned about 603,082 wagons, 49,355 coaches and 18,922 locomotives and ran more than 38,000 trains daily, including about 3,500 passenger trains.[1] The network today serves all provinces, with the exception of the special administrative region of Macau.

As of October 2008, the Chinese State Council approved a new CNY 2 trillion (US$ 292 billion) railway investment plan to take it up to 2020. The scheme extends China's previously announced railway building program, which was allocated CNY 1.25 trillion (US$ 182 billion) in the Eleventh Five-Year Plan for 2006 to 2010. As a result of the increased investment, the country's railway network has grown from 78,000 km at the end of 2007 to 91,000 km at the end of 2010, and is expected to grow to 110,000 km by the end of 2012. Growth in freight transport is thought to be one of the drivers behind the increased focus on rail, and the need to increase capacity to meet rising demand.[2]



Qing Dynasty era (1876–1911)

The first railroad to be built in China was the Woosung Railway in 1876, which was a 9 ¼-mile railway from Shanghai to Woosung (modern Shanghai's Baoshan District). The railway was dismantled only one year later by the Qing governor. Until the defeat of China in the First Sino-Japanese War, only very little development had been made. After the defeat, direct connection to the imperial capital Beijing was permitted: several lines were expanded towards the city, the three main lines being the Jinghan, Jingfeng, and the Jinpu Railways, which today are still some of the busiest lines in China.

By 1911, there were around 9000 km of tracks in China. However, many railways were designed, constructed, or even owned by foreign companies. The first indigenously designed and constructed railway by Chinese is the Jingzhang railway built from 1905 to 1909, a difficult job due to the mountainous terrain. The chief engineer of this railway was Zhan Tianyou, who is known as the Father of China's Railway.[citation needed]

The statue of Zhan Tianyou, in Zhangjiakou south railway station.

Republic of China era (1912–1949)

During the Republic of China era from 1912 until 1949, the development of the railway network in China was slowed down. This was due to repeated civil wars and the invasion of Japan in the Second Sino-Japanese War. One of the few exceptions was in Northeastern China (Manchuria). During the reign of the Fengtian warlord from 1912 till 1931, several railway lines were built. The South Manchuria Railway Company by Japanese was founded in 1906 and after the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), Japan took over the operation of the Chinese Far East Railway (東清鐵路) at Changchun city and southward and kept development going vigorously. In 1945, just after the Second Sino-Japanese War, there were 27,000 km of rail, nearly half of which, 13,000 km, was located in Manchuria.[3]

People's Republic of China era (1949–)

After the establishment of the People's Republic of China, the new government under Mao Zedong invested heavily in the railway network. From the 1950s to the 70s, lines, especially those in western China, were expanded. One example is the 1900 km railway from Lanzhou to Urumqi, which was built between 1952 and 1962. In Southwestern China, where difficult terrain prevails, several mountain railways were constructed, such as the Baoji-Chengdu Railway, built in the 1950s, and the Chengkun Railway, built in the 1970s. The railway to Xizang (Tibet), the Qingzang railway, was one of the most difficult to build; the line was finally completed and opened to the public in 2006. Today, every province-level entity of the People's Republic, with the exception of Macau, is connected to the railway network.

Not only has the Chinese railway network expanded in size since 1949, but it has also seen great technological advances. Before the 1980s, most of the railways were powered by steam, due to low labour costs and cheap coal prices.[citation needed] However, the first diesel locomotive, the Dongfeng, was introduced in 1959. During the 1980s and 90s, diesel and electric locomotives gradually replaced the steam engines on main lines. However, steam locomotives didn't retire from some provincial railways until the 21st century. In December 2005, the world's last regular revenue mainline steam train finished its journey on the Jitong railway, marking the end of the steam era. Nevertheless, there are still some steam locomotives used in the industrial railways in China.

From 1990 to 2001, on average some 1,092 km of new railways, 837 km of multiple-track, and 962 km of electrified railways were opened to traffic annually, 2.4-fold, 1.7-fold and 1.8-fold increases respectively over the previous 10 years. At the end of 2004, railways in operation reached 74,200 km, including 24,100 km of multiple track and 18,900 km of electrified railways. On a global basis, China's rail transport volume is one of the world's largest, having six percent of the world's operating railways, and carrying 25 percent of the world's total railway workload. China also leads in terms of the growth rate of transport volume and use of transport equipment.

Since 1997, train speed has been raised significantly six times. The top speed of express trains increased from 120 km to 200 km per hour, and passenger trains can reach maximum speed of 350 km per hour on some sections of the arterial railways.

Current network

China maintains about twenty principal domestic railway routes with a total length of 91,000 km by the end of 2010.

As of 2007: Total: 78,000 km[4](network length). The total track length is 154,600km.[5][6]

  • Standard gauge: 79,685 km 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) gauge (2008)
  • Metre gauge: 466 km 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) (Yunnan-Vietnam Railway)
  • Narrow gauge: 3,600 km 750 mm (2 ft 5 12 in) gauge local industrial lines (1998 est.)
  • Electrified: 27,500 km, 34.5% electrified (2008)
  • Double track: 29,000 km (not included in total) (2008)

Main lines

The map of the railway network of all China as of March 2010 (including Taiwan as politically claimed)

Main article: List of railways in China

Railway management

There are three levels of management in the national railway system of China

There are sixteen Railway Bureaus and two Railway Group Companies under the Minister of Railways.

There are also some local railway lines operated by local state-owned companies. The only private-owned railway line in mainland China is Luoding Railway in Guangdong Province.[citation needed]

Railway bureaus

  • Beijing Railway Bureau
  • Chengdu Railway Bureau
  • Guangzhou Railway Group Co. Ltd.
  • Harbin Railway Bureau
  • Hohhot Railway Bureau
  • Jinan Railway Bureau
  • Kunming Railway Bureau
  • Lanzhou Railway Bureau
  • Nanchang Railway Bureau
  • Nanning Railway Bureau
  • Qinghai-Tibet Railway Group Co., Ltd.
  • Shanghai Railway Bureau
  • Shenyang Railway Bureau
  • Taiyuan Railway Bureau
  • Wulumuqi (Ürümqi) Railway Bureau
  • Wuhan Railway Bureau
  • Xi'an Railway Bureau
  • Zhengzhou Railway Bureau


The two main categories of conventional Chinese locomotives are the Dongfeng diesel locomotives and the Shaoshan electric locomotives. In the first decade of the 21st century the railways of china began to import and produce AC-DC-AC transmission electric locomotives; the most numerous of these are the HXD series "Harmony" locomotives for freight work, of which over 3000 were ordered. Most modern trains, for example for the China Railway High-Speed service, are either imported or produced in China using technology transfer agreements.

Train speed limits

China has increased the allowed top speed for trains six times: in April 1997, October 1998, October 2000, November 2001, April 2004, and April 18, 2007. In the 1997 speedup, the top speed of passenger trains on some of the main lines was increased to 140 km/h. During the following speedups top speeds were increased to 160 km/h on some lines and up to 250 km/h. During the 2007 speedup, the top speeds reached 200 km/h on 6,003 km tracks of main lines such as Jinghu Railway, Jingha Railway, and Jingguang Railway.[7] On 848 km tracks the top speeds reached 250 km/h, most of which were on the Qinshen Passenger Railway.Another 14,000 km tracks had a top speed limit of 160 km/h and an extra 22,000 km tracks had a 120 km/h limit.[8] In addition, during this speedup, the heavy-haul freight transportation speed limit was also boosted to 120 km/h. This speedup was expected to boost passenger and cargo capacity by 18 percent and 12 percent respectively.[9] The newly built Beijing-Tianjin high-speed rail has a top speed of 350 km/h.

Passenger transport

Rail is one of the principal means of transport in China, with over 1.3 billion railway trips taken in 2007 and 1.4 billion estimated for 2008.[10] The Spring Festival Travel Season is the peak railway travel season of the year. In 2008, 1.456 billion people travelled 772.8 billion km by rail.[11]


During the three weeklong holidays in China, known as "Golden Week", demand for tickets increases dramatically due to many migrant workers returning home and others using the time to travel the country. The holidays are the week starting May 1 and October 1 and the week around Chinese New Year, also known as the Chunyun season.

Even though the duration of the May holidays was shortened in 2009, the holiday traffic remained strong, with the record of 6.54 million passengers carried over the Chinese rail network on May 1, 2009.[12]

Chinese New Year

Every year before, during and after the Chinese New Year, Chinese railway operate the Chunyun period – increased services on most lines for the increased demand due to the holidays. Since railway transport is the cheapest method for long distance travellers in China, the railway is the most important transport method during the Chunyun period. For example, during the 40 days of the 2007 Chunyun period, it is estimated that 156 million passengers used trains. This translates to an average of 3.9 million passengers a day. However, the average daily capacity of the Chinese railway system is 2.4 million. To make the situation even worse, traffic is highly imbalanced: before the Chinese New Year, passengers mainly travel from eastern provinces to western provinces. After the holiday, traffic reverses. Although hundreds of temporary trains are operated, train tickets are still in short supply. Trains are very crowded during this period, for example; a passenger car with 118 seats may accommodate more than 200 people.[citation needed]

Cross-border services

Passenger train services are available to destinations in:

  • Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Russia. These countries use 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 56 in) gauge, so there is a break-of-gauge.
  • Hong Kong SAR and North Korea. These use standard gauge.
  • Vietnam, which uses 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in), so there is a break of gauge at Hanoi.

Hong Kong

Train services to Hong Kong terminate at the Hung Hom Station in Kowloon. Within Hong Kong the cross-boundary services use the tracks of the East Rail Line. There are three through-train routes, Beijing line (to/from Beijing), Shanghai line (to/from Shanghai) and Guangdong line (to/from Zhaoqing and Guangzhou East). Another express train service linking Hong Kong and Guangzhou with intermediary stop in Shenzhen has been approved and construction in the China section has commenced. This new express rail line will reduce the train travel time between Hong Kong and Guangzhou from 2 hours to 1 hour.


China's Lanxin Railway connects with the Kazakhstan railway system at Alashankou since ca. 1990. There are two weekly passenger trains (one Kazakh and one Chinese) from Almaty to Urumqi in Western China. There are differing reports on which of the two is more comfortable, however the Chinese train is generally of a higher standard than the Kazakh train. See Alashankou.

A new electric railway line from Jinghe on the main Lanxin line via Ghulja (Yining) to Khorgos near the Kazakh border was completed in the late 2009.[13] (The passenger service, started on July 1, 2010, only operates to Ghulja, though.[14][15]) On the Kazakh side, work has started to connect Khorgos to Zhetigen (on the Turksib line north of Almaty). When completed, this will provide the second railway connection between China and Kazakhstan, and a more direct railway from Urumqi to Almaty.[16]

Proposed future rail links

Proposed high-speed links to Europe and South-East Asia

China is in negotiations to build a continent-spanning high-speed rail network with destinations as far away as London and Germany, within the next ten years. Chinese railway consultant from China's Academy of Engineering; Wang Mengshu, said the 8,157 km (5,069 mi) journey (from Beijing to London) would take just two days to complete, traveling at speeds of up to 345 km/h (215 mph). Mr Wang said that China was already in negotiations with 17 countries over the rail lines, which will draw together and open up the whole of Central, East and South East Asia. Mr Wang said the network would also allow China to transport valuable cargoes of raw materials more efficiently.

Mr Wang said; "We have also already carried out the prospecting and survey work for the European network, and Central and Eastern European countries are keen for us to start," Mr Wang said. "The Northern network will be the third one to start, although China and Russia have already agreed on a high-speed line across Siberia, where one million Chinese already live." A second project would see trains heading north through Russia to Germany and into the European railway system, and a third line will extend south to connect Vietnam, Thailand, Burma and Malaysia.[17][18][19][20]

Proposed link to Laos

In 2011, construction is expected to begin on a railway from Kunming to Laos.[21][22]

Proposed link to Macau

Macau SAR is the only province-level division of China that has no railway. An extension of the Guangzhou Railway to Cotai through Hengqin Island has been proposed.[23]


Changing bogies on the Sino-Mongolian border

Train services to Mongolia terminate in Ulan Bator. China's rail network connects with Mongolia railways in Erenhot in China and Dzamyn Ude in Mongolia. Nowadays, there are two trains every week departing from Beijing and Hohhot. Moreover, there are five times of train service between Ulan Bator and Erenhot every week. As same as links to Russia, the international trains need to change bogies in Erenhot, since Mongolia uses broad gauge.

There are two weekly trains from Beijing to Mongolia, one of which continues to Moscow.

Proposed link to Myanmar

There are also tentative plans to build a 1920 km railway to Yangôn in Myanmar; this may be linked to a deepwater port at Dawei.[24]

North Korea

There are 4 weekly trains with Hard and Soft Sleeper from Beijing to Pyongyang in North Korea. There is also a once weekly carriage attached to the Vostok train from Moscow to North Korea via Harbin and Shenyang in China.


For a long time, China's rail network has directly connected with Russian railways at two points: Manzhouli and Suifenhe. These connections exist since the construction of the Transsiberian Railway in the early 1900s, since the earliest Transsiberian route took a shortcut through China's Manchuria along what was known as the China Eastern Railway. The former is used by a large amount of freight and by one of the Beijing-Moscow trains (there is also an alternative route via Mongolia), while the latter is used by a service to Russia's Primorsky Krai. As of November 2008, there was no direct passenger service from e.g. Harbin to Vladivostok, but one could travel along this route with transfers in Suifenhe, Grodekovo, and Ussuriysk.[25]

The third, little known and even less used, rail connection between the two countries was built farther south, between Hunchun and Russian Makhalino (a station on the Ussuriysk-Khasan-North Korean border line, 41 km before Khasan). It began operating in February 2000,[26] and saw only a minor amount of traffic (678 railcars of lumber) over the next two years. The line was closed in 2002–2003, reopened in 2003, but, as of the summer of 2004, it was still reported as seeing little traffic.[27]

In November 2008, the transport ministries of Russia and the China signed an agreement about creating one more link between the railway systems of the two countries. It will involve a railway bridge between across the Heilongjiang (Amur) River, connecting Tongjiang in China's Jiamusi prefecture with Nizhneleninskoye, a village in Russia's Jewish Autonomous Oblast. At that point, the construction work was expected to start in 2009 and to be completed in 2011.[28][29]

Currently there are two weekly trains in each direction between Beijing and Moscow: trains no. 3/4 including Chinese 2 berth deluxe soft sleeper running via Mongolia, and no. 19/20 running via Manzhouli and Harbin.


Nanning-Hanoi link

There are twice weekly trains from Beijing to Hanoi in Vietnam. The trains consist of a typical T style Chinese express from Beijing to Dong Dang (Đồng Đăng, in Lang Son Province) on the Vietnamese border. The train may require passengers to detrain in Nanning for 5 hours (especially on the north bound service) however a lounge area with reclining chairs is available for Soft Sleeper passengers.

Customs are cleared in Dong Dang station.

Yunnan–Vietnam Railway

The narrow-gauge Yunnan–Vietnam Railway runs from Kunming to Hekou on the Vietnamese border, and continue on the Vietnamese side to Hanoi. There has been no passenger service on this line since some time after 2000.

Planned new link in western Guangxi

In 2010, a 72-km single-track electrified rail branch was completed from Tiandong on the Nanning -Kunming railway to Debao, to the southwest.[30] Construction was started on extending this branch from Debao further southwest, to Jingxi,[31] with plans to eventually extend it all the way to the Longbang border crossing on the Vietnamese border.[30]

Proposed rail link to India

Indian Railways and rail authorities in China are interested in constructing a high-speed rail link that would link New Delhi with Kunming, China via Myanmar[32]

Potential link of Qinghai-Tibet railway to India

As India has been extending its railway near the Nathu La pass with China, and China has plans to extend the Qinghai-Tibet railway to near its border with Nathu La, a petition was set up to promote the idea that both countries could link up their respective proportions for direct train services between the two countries. As of September 6, 2011, the petition had 81 members.[33].

High-speed rail

High-speed rail services were introduced in 2007 and are operated using CRH trains. These run on existing lines that have been upgraded to speeds of up to 250km/h and on dedicated high speed track up to 350 km/h.

Conventional railways

350 km/h railways

  • Beijing-Tianjin high-speed rail

200 km/h railways

Total 6003 km as of April 2007.

Rolling stocks

Sleeper trains

There are generally three classes of sleeper compartments in China:[34]

  • Soft sleeper – offered in a lockable compartment that has four sleeping berths, two lower ones and two upper berths which can be folded up to allow for seating in the lower berths.
  • Hard sleeper – are provided in an open carriage consisting of a wide aisle on one side and bays of six sleeping berths on the other arranged on three levels. Hard sleepers are generally cheaper than soft sleepers.
  • Deluxe soft sleeper – are offered as a two berth compartment with a private toilet. Only a few services in China such as the Beijing-Hong Kong through train offer this option.

See also


  1. ^ http://www.china-mor.gov.cn/zwzc/tjxx/tjgb/201012/t20101229_5999.html
  2. ^ Amidst GDP Slump, China Pours Investment in Railways
  3. ^ Manchurian railway development [1]
  4. ^ 截至去年底中国铁路营业里程7.8万公里 世界第三
  5. ^ English language statistics for 2004 state 74,200. Both exclude any ROC-controlled areas (e.g. Taiwan) and include cross-boundary services to Hong Kong
  6. ^ (including 5,400 km of provincial "local" rails and Hong Kong MTR)
  7. ^ More homemade high-speed trains to hit rails
  8. ^ France 24
  9. ^ CCTV International
  10. ^ Wu, Zhong (May 7, 2008). "Blowing the whistle on 'Big Brother'". The Times. UK. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China/JE07Ad01.html. Retrieved May 6, 2008. 
  11. ^ 去年全国铁路发送旅客14.56亿人次 增长10.6%
  12. ^ China railways carry record 6.54 mln passengers on May 1
  13. ^ Xingjiang’s first electrified railway rails laid September 17, 2009
  14. ^ Tickets of train from Urumqi to Yining put on sale (June 22, 2010)
  15. ^ Xinjiang's first electrified railway passenger train (July 7, 2010)
  16. ^ Today near Almaty started building of a new branch line which will connect Kazakhstan and the Peoples Republic of China August 5, 2009.
  17. ^ "King's Cross to Beijing in two days on new high-speed rail network". The Daily Telegraph (London). March 8, 2010. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/7397846/Kings-Cross-to-Beijing-in-two-days-on-new-high-speed-rail-network.html. 
  18. ^ "'New Orient Express' fast train could get travellers to Beijing from London in TWO days". Daily Mail (UK). March 9, 2010. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-1256647/Fast-train-link-London-Beijing-days.html. 
  19. ^ Simpson, Peter; Wilkes, David (March 9, 2010). "Orient super express: From London to Beijing by train... in just TWO days". Daily Mail (UK). http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1256536/200mph-train-link-London-Beijing-just-days.html. 
  20. ^ http://www.lonelyplanet.com/china/beijing/travel-tips-and-articles/42238
  21. ^ "LAOS LINK WITH CHINA". December 12, 2010. http://www.railwaysafrica.com/blog/2010/12/laos-link-with-china/. Retrieved December 12, 2010. 
  22. ^ "Railway Gazette: China's horizons extend southwards". January 6, 2011. http://www.railwaygazette.com/nc/news/single-view/view/chinas-horizons-extend-southwards.html. Retrieved January 6, 2011. 
  23. ^ Macau – Meeting Point: a Legacy for the Future (1999), published by the Comissão Territorial de Macau para es Comemorações does Descobrimentos Portugueses, p.6.
  24. ^ "Railway Gazette: China's horizons extend southwards". January 6, 2011. http://www.railwaygazette.com/nc/news/single-view/view/chinas-horizons-extend-southwards.html. Retrieved January 6, 2011. 
  25. ^ According to the Russian train schedules at http://www.poezda.net/ (November 2008).
  26. ^ Kawamura, Kazumi. "Nine Transportation Corridors in Northeast Asia and Their Discontinuous Points". The Economic Research Institute for Northeast Asia. http://www.erina.or.jp/en/Ec/Forum2001/Session1/eKawamura.htm. Retrieved February 9, 2008. 
  27. ^ Пустой коридор ("An empty corridor") Dalnevostochny Kapital, No.7, July 2004. (Russian)
  28. ^ "Строительство первого железнодорожного моста соединяющего Китай и Россию начнется в 2009 году" (Construction of the first railway bridge connecting Russia and China will start in 2009) China.org.cn, 2008-11-27. (Russian)
  29. ^ [2] (This is somewhat obsolete by now; in reality, the project was much delayed.)
  30. ^ a b Wang Gang (王刚) (July 24, 2010), 泛亚铁路东通道重要路段广西开通 延伸至中越边境 (An important section of the Transasian Railway's Eastern Route; to extend to the Sino-Vietnamese border), http://news.hexun.com/2010-07-24/124356309.html 
  31. ^ China to build new railway linking Vietnam, October 12, 2009
  32. ^ The Times Of India (India). http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-03-10/patna/28676685_1_rail-link-trans-asian-china-and-india. 
  33. ^ http://www.facebook.com/pages/Petition-for-a-railway-between-China-and-India/112702522143508
  34. ^ Train Travel in China – a Beginners Guide

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