What India Can Learn from China’s High- Speed Rail

China tops the world in the length of high-speed railways and accounts for 60 percent of the global total.
by Houguang Xu
The Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Railway, which began operation on August 1, 2008, is known as China’s first high-speed rail line operated at a speed of 350 kilometers per hour. [CFP]

Every Spring Festival holiday, China gears up for the world’s biggest migration of people known as “Chunyun” (literally, “Spring Festival Travel Rush). During this years Spring Festival, about 330 million travelled by train between their hometowns and workplaces. Half of them took high-speed trains (HSTs).


By the end of 2015, the total length of railways had reached 121,000 kilometers in China, of which 19,000 kilometers are high-speed rails. China tops the world in the length of high-speed

railways and accounts for 60 percent of the global total. Of those high-speed railways,

some 10,000 kilometers are operated at an average speed of 300 kilometers per hour, while the rest at 200 to 250 kilometers per hour.

Despite the fact that high-speed rail is only 16 percent of the total length of China’s railways, they transport nearly half of the countrys train passengers. One reason is that HS Ts have become popular because of competition.

HSTs are preferred primarily because they are time-saving and convenient. For instance, it takes as little as three hours and 34 minutes to cover 1,023 kilometers from Beijing to Nanjing, capital of eastern China’s Jiangsu Province. Many business travelers opt for HSTs as they can go in the morning, do their business in the afternoon, and return the same day.

Doubtless, HSTs face competition from low-speed railway, aviation, and expressway. Usually, cars are preferred for trips within 100 kilometers because they make door-to-door transport easy. Flights are generally favored for trips beyond 1,200 kilometers. However, HST emerges as the favorite for trips between 100 and 1,200 kilometers because it offers comparatively higher speed than cars, and more convenience, comfort and safety.


On January 21, 2016, the Jakarta-Bandung HST project, to be executed by a Chinese company in Indonesia, broke ground. The Chinese side promised to help Indonesia complete the project in three years.

In 2015, Chinese and Japanese companies competed in the bid for the railway project, and the Indonesian government eventually chose the Chinese company as its partner. The contract was signed in Jakarta on October 16.

Japan was the first country to build HSTs. As early as 1964, the Tokaido Shinkansen, the world’s first HST operated with the maximum speed of 200 kilometers per hour and an average speed of 128.9 kilometers. After decades of development, Japans Shinkansen enjoys a high reputation globally. Why did Indonesia choose China to partner the building of its first HST?

Some of the reasons are: First, compared to Japan’s Shinkansen, Chinas highspeed rail boasts opener standards, which meets the technical standards of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), and the International Union of Railways (UIC) and are compatible with some European companies.Choosing Chinas HST standards means its future market is open.

Second, China has richer experience in HST construction, and it guarantees project completion as scheduled. Though Japan led the development of HST, it has so far put into operation highspeed rail length of only 2,834.7 kilometers. The total length of high-speed railways in China has reached 19,000 kilometers, and another 10,000 kilometers are under construction. Therefore, China has richer experience and demonstrates higher efficiency in HSTs. The Jakarta-Bandung HST may take the Chinese only three years for completion, but the same may take the Japanese five years.

Finally, China provides attractive financing plans based on the business- tobusiness mode, instead of using government budgets. China and Indonesia established a joint venture for the railway project, in which the Indonesian side holds 60 percent and the Chinese 40. When completed, the HST will be under joint ownership. Moreover, China has pledged help for training Indonesian professionals in HST management and operation.

The Jakarta-Bandung HST is merely an example of Chinese high-speed rails going abroad. China has reached “intention to cooperate on HST construction with countries such as the United States and Thailand. China will help the U.S. build a HST between Los Angeles and Las Vegas with a designed speed of 250 kilometers per hour. In Thailand, it will construct a

high-speed railway linking Nong Khai, Bangkok and Map Ta Phut, with a designed speed of 180 kilometers per hour, which can go up to 250 kilometers if required.

Currently, China is negotiating with some other countries including Russia, Malaysia, Singapore, Turkey, and Brazil for high-speed railway projects.


It was a long haul for China’s HST from closeddoor development to global cooperation.

In 1978, when Deng Xiaoping visited Japan, someone suggested that China should develop HSTs. Throughout the 1980s, officials from the Ministry of Railway, as well as scholars and experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering, called for constructing HSTs on many occasions. In 1990, China launched a plan to build a high-speed railroad between Beijing and Shanghai. Upgraded in 1994, the Guangzhou-Shenzhen line began to operate at 160 kilometers per hour, with a pilot section that allowed trains to run as fast as 250 kilometers per hour. All of these accumulated as experience for development of HSTs.

In 1999, China began to construct the line from Qinhuangdao to Shenyang for a speed of 200 kilometers per hour, which was put into operation in 2003. Although it ran at 160 kilometers per hour in its early days, its construction provided valuable experience for development of HSTs.

In 2004, China’s HSTmarket began opening to the world, and since then development has been on the fast track. Through international public bidding, China cooperated with global industrial giants such as Bombardier, Kawasaki and Siemens to introduce advanced HST technology. Several years later, HSTs with speeds of 200 to 250 kilometers per hour began sweeping across the country. On August 1, 2008, the Beijing-Tianjin HST was the worlds first to clock 250 kilometers an hour, and thus China came to lead the world in HSTs.

An important factor behind this success is that it chose to cooperate with several leaders in the field of HST, instead of any single multinational. In this way, China gained more experience and key technologies.

Another factor is that China has constantly expanded its rail network. In the process, Chinese enterprises acquired rich experience of cooperation with their foreign counterparts, and emerged as world leaders in the industry.


China and India share many commonalities. Both countries are populous, and railways play an irreplaceable role in their respective transportation systems. So, it is imperative for both countries to develop highspeed rail.

First, India has a big population like China. In view of its huge demand for passenger transportation, it is impractical to solve transport problems through developing civil aviation as the U.S. did. Railways have an unparalleled advantage in this regard.

Second, the problem of energy shortage will only increase, thereby hindering a nation’s development alongside the world economys expansion. Railways are comparatively effective in saving energy. A research by Japans Ministry of International Trade and Industry shows that the ratio of per capita energy consumption of travel by railway, airplane and car is 1:4:6. European Union (EU) statistics indicate that railways contribute only 1.6 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the transport industry, but bear 10 percent of total traffic volumes. Compared to highways and airplanes, railways are more effective in energy conservation.

I attended, several times, the International Railway Equipment Exhibition, an annual event held in New Delhi every October, through which I got to know many friends who care about India’s railway development and learned much about the countrys railway industry. I feel delighted over the progress made by Indias railway industry.

India has planned a massive HST network known as the Diamond Quadrilateral. Many enterprises from countries including China and Japan would like to be involved in the plan. A Chinese company has participated in the feasibility research for the HST project linking New Delhi and Mumbai. I believe

that India will definitely complete the world’s most advanced HST network in the near future, and Indians will enjoy the comfort and convenience of traveling by highspeed trains.

The author is a senior researcher in the field of railway transportation. His publications include High-Speed Rail

in Color.