Transportation Deployment Casebook/2019/China's High Speed Rail Network

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The following Wikibook is a high level summary of China's High Speed Rail Network (HSRN) within the wider context of the Global Market. Both Qualitative and Quantitative aspects of the network were considered for analysis. This ultimately culminated in a life cycle analysis of the networks birth, growth and maturation phases through the production of an Logistic S-Curve Predictive Model based on annual Passenger-Kilometres of the HSRN in China. This submission was made in line with the Homework Assignment Marking Criteria and Requirements for HWA3 of CIVL5703 as studied at the University of Sydney.

Qualitative Assessment of China's High Speed Rail Network[edit]

Advantages of High Speed Rail within the Context of China[edit]

High Speed Rail (HSR) and the Network for which such services are operated (HSRN) generate a significant number of benefits and advantages when compared against other forms of transport operating across the same distances, namely domestic air travel covering distances up to approximately 800km, as well as when comparing travel times to conventional rail travel. It is to this extent that HSR services are most beneficial. However, there are a range of associated benefits that must also be considered when investigating the external affects of such a network. Such benefits include[1]:

  • Reduced dependency upon roads infrastructure, relieving congestion time delays, and congestion generated idling pollution contributions.
  • Potential for a reverse in levels of urban sprawl. With the increased ability to maintain similar commute times, but live further away from work, HSR can improve access to previously inaccessible or nonviable places to live. This can only be achieved through the presence of a HSRN capable of providing routine services with maximum operating speeds well in excess of 300km/h
  • Improved productivity. Countries with HSR technology have equivocated time spent working whilst commuting as being similar to time spent being physically present at the office (for those jobs which can be performed remotely or in part from a laptop). This has allowed for greater levels of productivity where employees are able to tend to work related matters from the comfort of a HSR service.
  • When considering the context of China, the advent of a HSRN would lessen the country's reliance on foreign imported oil and petroleum to power conventional modes of transport such as road and air. Equally, the use of such materials to generate electricity to operate the HSRN is done so at a higher level of efficiency. Furthermore, increased reliance on renewable sources of energy also serve to improve the overall environmental standpoint of HSR travel.
  • HSR travel is significantly safer than road travel. In 2016, approximately 700 people died on Chinese roads everyday, and, whilst HSR in China has had accidents, the total fatalities across the entire network has yet to summate to the number of people who die on Chinese roads every year.
  • Significant economic stimulus. A significant proportion of China's HSRN construction commenced in the period of economic downturn following the GFC. To this end, the significant investment in the HSR initiative aided in the economic and social recovery of the country in the years following.

Pre-HSR Transportation[edit]

With a land area of nearly 9,600,000 km2, mass migration of China’s population has been limited to the historically available infrastructure with little development occurring outside of the major cities for most of the 18th to 20th Centuries.[2] Accordingly, the vast expanse of area presented significant complexities and issues when considering how best to provide a viable transport option and infrastructure to the growing population of 1.4 billion people. To this end, much of the transport infrastructure development has occurred since the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.[3]

Furthermore, some of the largest developments, both in terms of monetary value and infrastructure improvement, has been attributed to China’s rapidly expanding and developing rail network. Such developments have seen rail transport being recognised as the primary choice for medium-long distance travel options and remains the major mode of transport across the country in 2018.[4] This has culminated in China’s rail network expanding to an astonishing 120,970 km in 2016, ranking second as the longest rail network in the world. This is an increase of over 550% when compared to the total network length of 21,800km prior to 1950, averaging an extra 8.4% of additional railway track length to the network for the 66-year period.[4]

Of the 120,970km network, approximately 21%, or 25,000km, comprises of China’s HSRN, which in turn makes the network both the longest, and busiest HSRN in the world. The growth of China’s inter-city HSRN has experienced consistent and health growth since the initial service began construction in 1990’s, with the exception of the GFC in 2008.[4] This growth period has been paralleled with domestic air travel, providing a source of competition over the same time period. Furthermore, the link between Air & HSR travel is intrinsic to China’s transportation network, to the extent that the world’s busiest magnetic levitation train service, the Shanghai Maglev Train, operates between Shanghai Pudong International Airport and Longyang Road Station.[4]

To this extent, the use of rail as a primary choice for medium-long journeys has characterised the primary method of travel within China since the first passenger railway service began operation in 1876.[5] Supplementary to the inter-city rail network facilitated through the HSRN, much of the intra-city commuter journeys are made using any one of the 34 metro systems that are in operation across the country. The dependency of China’s economy on rail transport infrastructure is no less apparent when understood in the context of the seven of the 12 largest intra-city metro or subway networks/systems are located in Chinese cities.[4][6]

Further in line with the development of purpose-built transit and transport infrastructure, China’s road-based infrastructure has experienced a boom similar to that of the HSRN & associated industries. This expansion includes the planning, development and construction of many rapid-transit bus services, light rail & highway infrastructure. Government developed initiatives sort to empower the development and subsequent connection of many cities through the construction of road highways through the "National Trunk Highway System".[6] This initiative was implemented simultaneously to the development of China’s HSRN throughout the 1990’s, to the extent that the expressway road network culminated in an approximate total of 97,000km in length in 2016, compared to the aforementioned 25,000km of the HSRN. The resultant networks highlighted their corresponding enormity, as each was the respective longest transport network in the world for both expressways and HSR. Furthermore, the increased capacity and connectivity of the inter and intra city road network has generated an increased uptake of private vehicle usage across the middle and upper classes of the population; however, HSR transport and air travel still remain the leading transit options for middle to long haul journeys. [4][6]

Technological Developments[edit]

China’s HSRN, and its associated technological advancement, has followed a two-stage development, most clearly defined/recognised through the formative Initial Development of the network and associated technology, through the mid 1990’s through to the 2008 GFC, and the Secondary Boom/Growth Period characterised through the renaissance of HSR investment and development since 2014 through to today.

Development through Dependency[edit]

China’s initial experimentation/consideration with/of HSR Technology focused on developing the facilities and capacity to produce the required technology, and associated Research & Development at a domestic level. Despite achieving testing objectives with regards to target speeds, concerns pertaining to reliability and serviceability negated the selection of domestically manufactured Chinese high-speed rolling stock for commercial operation.[6] The prolonged commercial serviceability hard to achieve and the increased consumption of resources, namely time and money, proved that the gap between the contextually available technology, as offered by Germany, France & Japan, and initial domestically manufactured Chinese alternatives was too great a difference to bridge. For this reason, the initial or first phase of growth for China’s HSRN came on the back of foreign rolling stock and track technology and manufacturing. However, the then active Ministry of Rail (MOR), provided clear directive, as well as contractual obligation, that the ensuing investment and expansion of China’s HSRN would not serve to only benefit those foreign economies &/or companies investing in China’s HSRN.[6]

In June 2004, the MOR solicited bids to make 200 high-speed train sets that can run 200 km/h.[7]

  • Alstom of France
  • Siemens of Germany
  • Bombardier Transportation based in Germany
  • Japanese consortium led by Kawasaki all submitted bids.[7]

With the exception of Siemens which refused to lower cost per train set and cost of technology transfer, the other three were all awarded portions of the contract.[7]

Transition to Self-Reliance[edit]

The objective of developing both the technology and manufacturing processes capable of self-sustaining China’s domestic HSR industry has been a major goal of China Railway. The second phase of China’s HSR industry and associated network has been characterised through the transition from being dependent upon the manufacturing capabilities and technological services of foreign companies, to being market leaders in HSR technology and processes.[8] This is most notably reflected in the domestically developed and manufactured second-generation of HSR rolling stock and track expansions. Following the significant contribution, and subsequent transfer of technologies, from those foreign companies, domestic manufacturers there has been a significant shift across the short life-cycle of China’s HSRN has come in the continual development of the country’s research and development at a domestic level, with the design, manufacturing and development of their own High-Speed Rolling Stock, with operating speeds in excess of 350km/h, and maximum test speeds in excess of 450km/h. Equally, this momentous shift from dependency to self-reliance is echoed in the underlying policy objective set by China Railway, as a primary operator behind the significant increase in HSRN infrastructure construction and development (in manufacturing and technology services – supplementary services and industries).[8]

However, the transition between international importation of technology and services to a largely domestic industry was, and is, not characterised by a clear distinction. Rather the symbiotic relationship between foreign rail investment and the parallel sharing of attained HSR related information has remained an ingoing partnership for many of those initial phase joint ventures. Such as relationship has not only helped bridge the initial technological and manufacturing capacity deficit of China’s HSR industry, but, arguably, been the catalyst for the ongoing growth of China’s HSRN over the course of the past two decades, and especially over the course of the second resurgence of the industry since 2014. However, it must be noted that the foreign joint-venture relationships, formed with mostly government owned companies or enterprises, can result in disputes surrounding non-contractual technology theft. To this end, Kawasaki challenged their joint-venture partners, on the ground of technology and patent theft; a challenge that was later revoked. The relationship was ended not long after and Kawasaki left the Chinese HSR market.[7]

The transition between dependency and self-reliance, whilst not clearly defined, can be mile posted through using the Beijing-Shanghai Railway as a pace stick. In 2007, a one-way trip along the Beijing-Shanghai Railway was just under 10 hours, with a top operating speed of 200km/h.[9] However, in the span of 12 months, on the 18th of April 2008, construction began parallel to the existing, conventional Beijing-Shanghai Railway, for the world’s first HSR service with a designed operating top speed of 380km/h. Construction was completed and commercial services began operation on the 30th of June 2011. Similarly, on the 26th of October 2010, the CRH380A/AL, began operation on the Shanghai-Hangzhou HSR Service, signifying the first time that an indigenously produced high-speed train (forming part of the CRH Series) was the primary rolling stock used on a HSR route. The CRH380A/AL would later be used on the Beijing-Shanghai route later that same year.[10]

Prior to being amalgamated into China Railway, the Ministry of Rail (MOR) announced the next stage of research and development of HSR technology; which would aim to increase the maximum operating speed of the next phase of domestically produced high-speed rolling stock to over 500km/h.

Birthing Phase of China's HSRN[edit]

As has been widely reported, the spiritual home and birthplace of High-Speed Rail travel as it stands today, started in Japan. Equally, prominent European countries such as France, Spain & Germany all investing in HSR technology almost two decades prior to China’s first commercial service began operation. To this end, much of the available technology within the HSR context/industry was far

Initial Planning & Development

As China’s emergence and integration within the global economy continued to flourish through the 1990’s, so too did the Chinese Governments plan for a HSRN. In December 1990, the then active Ministry of Railways (MOR), proposed the construction of a purpose-built high-speed railway line between Beijing & Shanghai.[11] The contextual disposition of the 1305km long Beijing-Shanghai Railway corridor was one of operating beyond the original design capacity with the scheduled trip duration nearing 10 hours in one direction.[12] After four years in December 1994, approval was granted for a feasibility study into a HSR service linking Beijing and Shanghai. It was this feasibility study that is often attributed as being the catalyst for China’s subsequent insurgence into HSR technology and manufacturing and the corresponding expansion of the network across mainland China.

The "Speed Up" campaigns

In conjunction to the feasibility studies into HSR transport, the MOR also developed a framework to increase the ridership of rail technology in readiness for a new HSRN. This initiative was coined the Speed Up campaign and targeted key points across the existing network and were delivered across five rounds over the span of seven years. Over the course of the five series of the campaign (April 1997, October 1998, October 2000, November 2001, and April 2004) sub-high-speed services, characterised as operating speeds of 160km/h, were provided across 7,700 km of existing passenger routes.[13]

The MOR focused on a selection of technological advancements and changes to facilitate the increase in operational speed, each of which were highlighted through each of the five rounds of the Speed Up campaign. The focal point of each campaign sort to highlight the efforts being made to modernise the existing line services as so to generate increases in the overall service speed and capacity on existing lines.[13] Such efforts included:

  • Double Track Construction
  • Track Electrification
  • Improvements in rail gradient
  • Reductions in turn curvature
  • Installation of continuously welded rail

As China’s HSRN transitions out of the initial development phase and into a period of sustained growth and maturation, a new wave of Speed Up Campaign initiatives, beginning in April 2007, have been developed and deployed in what was the sixth instalment of the Railway Speed Up Campaign.[13][14]

  • Track and scheduling improvements
  • Deployment of faster CRH series trains.
  • 52 CRH trainsets (CRH1, CRH2 and CRH5) entered into operation.

Growth-Development Phase of China's HSRN[edit]

China's HSRN, as is highlighted through both the Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis, is currently in the midst of a transition between the Initial Development Phase of the network into a predicted significant Growth Phase. The most characteristic trait of the potentially significant growth of China's HSRN is the National High-Speed Rail Grid. This the combination of pairings of both Vertical and Horizontal Network connections across the country through the construction of dedicated HSR routes and services, many of which either replace or run parallel to existing rail infrastructure.[15]

4x4 HSR Grid[edit]

Contrary to what the name suggests, the 4x4 grid is actually composed of eight high-speed rail corridors, four operating along the north-south corridor of the country and four running east-west, with a combined total track length of 12,000km. Much of the 4x4 grid is comprised of newly constructed lines that are solely dedicated to passenger traffic only. Similarly, given that many of the new lines closely follow existing trunk lines, many freight services have been moved to use those existing lines. The planning of the national grid system facilitated the inclusion and subsequent connection of many second and third tier cities along the southeast coastal corridor, through the construction of a HSR link. Given that such connections have not been made previously, the newly constructed rail links will serve to operate both passenger and freight services.[15] Solely dedicated track routes were designed such the maximum operating speeds would mimic the capacity of the CRH manufactured rolling stock, this being approximately 300–350 km/h. Newly constructed mixed-use HSR lines, passenger train services can attain peak speeds of 200–250 km/h. This ambitious national grid project was planned to be built by 2020, but the government's stimulus has significantly reduced the time to delivery for many of the lines.[15][16]

8x8 HSR Grid[edit]

With the significant stimulus provided by the Chinese Government, the 4x4 national HSR grid was largely completed by the end of 2015 and now serves as the backbone of China's HSR network. However, in July 2016, preparations began, beginning at the state level, for the intended reorganisation and subsequent redevelopment of the recently completed national HSRN, including those HSR lines in operation, under construction and recently completed under the original 4x4 National Grid System. This redevelopment of the system was to increase capacity by a factor of two to an 8x8 grid, with eight vertical and eight horizontal high speed rail "passageways", with the aim of doubling the networks capacity.[17][18]

Maturation of China's HSRN[edit]

Given the juniority of China’s HSRN, the maturation of the network is not likely to occur for many generations, especially, when considered within the context of the average growth of the countries rail network.

Over the past two decades, since the initial construction of the first HSR service (something something service) China’s HSRN has continued to grow at an average construction rate of 4.29% each year, representing 4,815km of newly constructed rail track each year.[19]

Accordingly, unlike the other HSRN around the work, such as those in both continental Europe & Japan, whose networks have matured and rates of expansion, as reflected through ridership (passenger-kilometres), new track construction and service formation has slowed substantially when compared the rate of growth exhibited by China’s HSRN, as well as when compared against each networks respective periods of expansion and growth. This is reflected/substantiated in the Quantitative Analysis provided below.[18]

Policy Objectives & Development of China's HSRN[edit]

Given the largely juvenile nature of China’s HSRN, many of the associated policies are also in their infancy. However, the underlying premise of those already implemented policies are clearly defined and serve to underpin and drive the future development and progression of the Network over the decade (towards 2030).

Equally, given the centralised ownership of China’s expansive rail network, through the state-owned sole proprietorship enterprise known as China Railway, much of the policy development process is governed by internal forces and less by externalities. China Railway High-speed (CRH) is the subsidiary company of China Railway that is responsible for China’s high-speed rail service.

Policy Criticism[edit]

Criticism during the inception and initial construction of China’s HSRN, from both domestic and international sources, questioned the need for such a network when much of the country was still considered underdeveloped or developing. Most of the commentary surrounding the infrastructure and associated policy development, highlighted concerns surrounding the chasm between the largely impoverished population and the premium cost of higher speed railway travel.

Accordingly, much of the explanation by China Railway in response to the outlined criticism served to highlight the anticipated outcomes and intended objectives of the implemented policies surrounding the development of the fledgling HSRN.

The government has justified the expensive undertaking by promoting a number of policy objectives.Namely, the following objectives were most commonly communicated as the positive impacts of investing in the HSR Infrastructure Project:

  • Increases in fiscal productivity through improvements in company transparency and associated competitiveness. This is to be achieved through an enlarged railway capacity, both with regards to rolling stock and passengers-kilometres, thus in turn alleviating the pressures on established railway lines and allowing for the transition of those lines to accommodate a freight transport orientated service, which is more profitable than passenger services which offer subsidized fares.[20]
  • Instantaneous labour market growth, generated through the immediate job creation through HSR construction projects in the primary case, as well as secondary markets such as concrete and steel generating a predicted 110,000 jobs from the Beijing–Shanghai HSR alone.[21][22]
  • Beijing is the commercial pivot point of China’s economy, with the majority of the Trans-National Corporations operating in China establishing their regional or global headquarters in the Nation’s capital. However, the sprawling growth of the domestic HSRN has enabled the promotion and growth of secondary cities as attractive and viable prospects for both national and international businesses.[23] This is reflected in the 59% growth in the market potential for those second-tier cities due to the connection and access to the HSRN. It is suggested that a 10% increase in a tributary city’s market potential is equated to an approximate 4.5% increase in the city’s corresponding average real-estate value. It is this subsequent growth that was touted as a primary objective of the continuation of the HSRN outside of major cities.[24][23]
  • The implementation of a HSRN was promoted as the Chinese Government taking greater environmental responsibility and electrical energy conservation and efficiency. The promoted policies highlighted that the use of rail technology required less electrical energy to transport the same amount of passengers or freight goods over a similar distance when compared to traditional road infrastructure travel. Furthermore, energy production was also endorsed given the ability to generate electricity from renewable sources, as opposed to imported oil and petroleum.[25]
  • One of the primary objectives acting as a driving force/factor for the rapid and sustained growth of China’s HSRN has been the desire to create/develop a home-grown HSR equipment and manufacturing industry.[4]

Quantitative Assessment of China's High Speed Rail Network[edit]

Most forms of technological invention and advancement follow a logistic function that is representative of the initial (birthing), growth & maturation phases and the identified technology or concept. A significant number of modes of transport also follow a similar lifecycle, which can be tracked, modelled and subsequently predicted. A logistic curve has been developed for China’s HSRN using annual passenger-kilometres as the independent variable. The ensuing model has been developed to predict the generalised pattern or pathway for which the growth of China’s annual passenger-kilometres may grow over the course of the next few decades.

Defining the Equation[edit]

The above data in table 1 is used to estimate a three-parameter logistic function, which is shown as follow. It is used to predict the tendency of the data.


  • is the status measure, (e.g. Passenger-km traveled)
  • is time (usually in years),
  • is the inflection time (year in which 1/2 K is achieved),
  • is saturation status level,
  • is a coefficient.

and were estimated using the process of trial and error given the small amount of available data.

In future, the equations below would be used to formulate the available data into a linear relationship from which more accurate values of K, b and t0 can be derived.

The equations are shown are as follows:

China's HSRN Passenger-Kilometres Predictive S-Curve Model[edit]

Equation Variables[edit]

The calculated and estimated values of constants and description of the variables can be seen in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Constants and Variable of the S-Curve equation
Variable Description Value
S Passenger-Kilometres Millions
t Time Year
t0 Point of inflection 2023
K Saturation level of track 2500
b Coefficient -0.23

Predictive Model[edit]

Figure 1 - Chinese HSRN Passenger-Kilometres Predictive S-Curve Model.png

Figure 1: Chinese HSRN Passenger-Kilometres Predictive S-Curve Model

Figure 2 - 2010-2020 Snap Shot.png

Figure 2: Snap Shot of the 10 year period between 2010 and 2020 of the Chinese HSRN Passenger-Kilometres Predictive S-Curve Model

Discussion of Quantitative Results[edit]

The provided results, whilst only an estimated prediction model at best, does allow for an exploration into the obtained results and the insights that can be derived. Whilst the initial correlation between the Actual and Predicted curves are similar, the following points must be considered when analysing the obtained results:

  • Data collection could only be verified through one source, leaving the model susceptible to the repercussions of using inaccurate data. The available data, whilst collected from reputable sources, could not be verified through official avenues and as such resulted in an incomplete data set. Equally, granted that the obtained actual data was for such as small sample size the risk for data inaccuracies is significantly magnified.
  • As highlighted in the dot point above, the collection of data and the small amount available hinder the validity and potential accuracy of the predictive model and any associated claims or assumptions that can be derived. Having only operated commercially for 10 years, the available data and associated internal and external impacts are too volatile to produce a statistically significant trend for annual passenger-kilometres. Furthermore, with such a small sample size, the requirement for input data is greater than the requirement to remove outlier vales, resulting in significant variations in collected data having substantial implications for final results and predictions.
  • For the transitional period that is currently hypothesised for China's HSRN, it is difficult to make accurate or valid predictions about the network over the next two decades, however, it is a fair comment to suggest that the expansion of the network is far from complete and the suggested 500km/h barrier may well be achieved throughout the expected growth phase of the network.

Collected and Predicted Data[edit]

Table 2: Track Length Data[26]
Year Actual






2010 46.3 119.59
2011 105.8 148.68
2012 144.6 184.31
2013 214.1 227.65
2014 282.5 279.95
2015 386.3 342.45
2016 464.1 416.29
2017 577.6 502.34
2018 NA 601.05
2019 NA 712.24
2020 NA 834.96
2021 NA 967.37
2022 NA 1106.8
2023 NA 1250
2024 NA 1393.16
2025 NA 1532.62
2026 NA 1665.03
2027 NA 1787.75
2028 NA 1898.94
2029 NA 1997.65
2030 NA 2083.70
2031 NA 2157.54
2032 NA 2220.04
2033 NA 2272.34
2034 NA 2315.68
2035 NA 2351.31
2036 NA 2380.40
2037 NA 2404.04
2038 NA 2423.15
2039 NA 2438.56
2040 NA 2450.94
2041 NA 2460.86
2042 NA 2468.80
2043 NA 2475.15
2044 NA 2480.22
2045 NA 2484.26
2046 NA 2487.47
2047 NA 2490.04
2048 NA 2492.08
2049 NA 2493.70


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