(Yicai Global) Oct. 8 -- China's rail expansion had been slow since reform and opening, the Chinese economic reform Deng Xiaoping instituted beginning in 1978, but travel along tracks has picked up steam to become ever more important in transport and economic growth since high-speed rail construction stoked up in the new century.
China had a mere 51,700 kilometers of operating railway at the beginning of its economic reform. Most train models -- known as 'green trains' from their color -- ran at under 40 kilometers per hour at that time, and so transit capacity lagged far behind demand.
The country's rail network has constantly expanded since the inception of reform and opening, however, with operating mileage reaching 127,000 kilometers by late last year, with average annual growth of 2.3 percent and a one and one-half fold increase over 1978, the country's statistics bureau announced in September.
China's high-speed railroad development has largely been an event of the last decade. Before that, the country prioritized highway construction. It opened its first independently built high-speed rail, the Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Railway, on Oct. 1, 2008, with a maximum speed of 350 kilometers per hour, thus officially embarking on the high-speed rail era.
The country has since opened dozens of such lines to become the only nation with a true high-speed rail network. It thus started from zero to reach its current operating mileage of over 25,000 kilometers to claim two-thirds of total global high-speed rail operating mileage in one decade.
Trains have now become the favored form of travel as high-speed rail burgeons. China's passenger and goods transport volume surged last year, when the state rail passenger headcount topped 3 billion in an annual rise of 9.6 percent and a jump of over one and a half times on 2004.
The country's rail passenger volume this summer climbed above 655 million, with annual growth of 10.5 percent setting a summer rail transit record.
High-speed railway expansion has changed the Chinese way of travel and perception of time and space, ushered in economic growth along rail routes and optimized and upgraded related sectors, advanced regional and urban-rural coordinated development and ecological civilization construction, and hastened metropolitan construction and urban expansion.
High-speed rail also greatly eases travel while also infusing vitality into urban economic and living circles along its routes.
Economic circles developed around the convenient high-speed railway network -- the Beijing-centric Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei economic agglomeration, the Yangtze River Delta economic cluster around Shanghai and the Pearl River Delta economic grouping centered on Guangzhou and Shenzhen -- act as major forces promoting regional resource sharing, rational industrial layout and coordinated economic development.
High-speed rail and intercity rail transit are vital in constructing urban agglomerations and metropolitans, Hu Gang, chairman of South China Urban Research Association, told Yicai Global. These rail transit modes are of especially large capacity and are punctual and safe when compared with highway travel, thus cementing them as the cornerstones of city cluster and metropolitan development, Hu added.
Editor: Ben Armour