China accelerated its high-speed-rail development plan last year in the wake of the global financial crisis, saying it would increase the passenger network by a third to 16,000 kilometers, or about 10,000 miles, by 2020. The centerpiece of the service is a 1,318-kilometer line with 16 kilometers of tunnels that will cut the trip between Beijing and Shanghai to five hours from 10. The Beijing / Shanghai high speed line is set to open 2012.
The Chinese Railway Ministry says that the new system makes economic sense: A two-track bullet train can transport 160 million people a year, compared with 80 million for a four-lane highway.
The 1,069 kilometer-long section of the Wuhan-Guangzhou line began test operations Saturday, with trains recording a top speed of 394.2 kilometers per hour, the fastest in the world. The railway has cut the travel time between the two cities from 10 hours to two hours and 46 minutes, effectively making China a smaller place. Beijing is also pushing an ambitious project to link itself to Hong Kong by high-speed rail over the next several years. The plan is to slash travel time from 27 hours to just eight hours.
This network will give the domestic air travel industry a run for its money. The Wuhan-Guangzhou express train service line charges a standard fare of 490 yuan (RM246.61) for a one-way trip. Travelling by air — which takes 1.5 hours — costs between 280 yuan and 930 yuan for a one-way ticket.
China will have 86,000km of railway by the end of this year, making it second only to the United States, which has 260,000km. By 2012, the figure will increase to 110,000km, including 13,000km of high-speed tracks serving 42 passenger lines.
Within three years, passengers will be able to use that express railway network to go from Beijing to most provincial capitals within eight hours.
Four lines traversing each of this vast country’s arteries will connect most major transport hubs, including Shanghai, Guangzhou, Taiyuan and Nanjing.
And by 2020, China plans to have high-speed railways covering 80 per cent of the current domestic flight network and 70 per cent of the country’s key cities, said the paper, citing a Ministry of Railway blueprint.
State media reported that the State Council, or Cabinet, last week also approved plans for 22 Chinese cities to build subways at a cost of 882 billion yuan.
So while it might be a while yet before the Chinese have an integrated subway, inter-city rail and high-speed national rail system, that network is well on the way, said Ng.
“The Chinese government has the Japanese model in mind. In about 15 to 20 years, China’s rail transport system might look very much like Japan’s.”
Some have criticized the plans, saying that Chinese passengers will not pay the premium price for high speed rail versus regular rail. The government could always subsidize ticket prices if ridership is low. There could be a period of time where the high speed rail is overbuilt, but a substantial amount of the $292 billion will be useful infrastructure as opposed to larger amounts in the US to prop up banks and financial institutions.
The US is spending an initial $8 billion as part of stimulus funds.
California has $10 billion in bonds for high speed rail and the california section of high speed rail is currently estimated at $42.6 billion (and climbing). The new plan accounts for inflation costs between 2012 and 2020, when it anticipates construction would take place.
A 4 page pdf on the california high speed rail project
The Washington Post, citing a GAO study, says construction costs vary from $22 million a mile to $132 million a mile for high speed rail. Once completed, the line will transport passengers from San Diego to Sacramento in 3 hours and 38 minutes, covering 588 miles for an estimated cost of $68.
If the 42.6 billion budget is enough then the cost would be $72.5 million per mile.
China’s $300 billion would buy 2273 to 13636 miles of high speed rail line in the USA according to the GAO estimate.
40 states submitted 278 pre-applications for various high-speed passenger rail projects, amounting to $102.5 billion in requests.