Nearly 500 Two-Mile Long Coal Trains Move Across China Every Day

China digs up coal in the west and then sends it east thousands of kilometers away. Every day on just one rail line there are 226 trains. Each train has 20,000 tons of coal. Each coal train is 2 miles long. This is moving about 4,500,000 tons of coal per day. This is 1.7 billion tons of coal per year on one rail line. China used about 3.8 billion tons of coal in 2018. There need to be 2 rail lines moving coal. There would need to be about 500 coal trains moving every day. There are probably fewer trains in that there is also trucking and barging of coal.

The coal train segment starts at about 19 minutes in this video.

11 thoughts on “Nearly 500 Two-Mile Long Coal Trains Move Across China Every Day”

  1. A lot of China’s production is outsourced from Europe and the States, and exported to them. Over half of Chinese exports go to OECD rich countries, and according to the Chinese, thirteen of their top 20 exporting companies are foreign owned – Apple, for example. It’s a little hypocritical to lambast China on the one hand for stealing rust-belt jobs, and then berate them when those same companies start making their products, and CO2, in China for American consumers. Likewise the United Kingdom is very proud of its emissions reductions, but most of their manufacturing has fled to Asia. It’s easier to decarbonise an office than a smelter.
    That said, it’s a scary graph. Let’s hope by the time the rest of the third world gets into gear, the Chinese have figured out how to do it coal-free.

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  2. Rather amazing… “3.8 billion tons” divided by 365 is about 10,000,000 tons a day. There sure would need to be 500+ trains a day, if it were all train transported. Given its density, that’s about 2.5 cubic kilometers of coal. Per year.  

    Since coal is 90% carbon or richer, the 3.8 billion tons is 3.8 trillion kg, which is 3.4×10¹² kg of carbon. 285×10¹² moles of C, requiring 570×10¹² moles of oxygen to form CO₂. Generating a total of 12.5×10¹² kg of CO₂.  

    The atmosphere, at 400 ppm CO₂, has a worldwide mass of about 5.1×10¹⁸ kg. That means each ppm is 5.1×10¹² kg of CO₂. More or less (actually more like ⁴⁴⁄₂₉ × 5.14×10¹² = 7.8×10¹² kg CO₂). Anyway.  

    12.5×10¹² kg of CO₂ divided by 7.8×10¹² kg/ppm → 1.6 ppm/year from China alone. Directly. 

    This, of course, is assuming that the 3.8 billion tons of coal is a factual number. I doubt it, given how much coal surreptitiously finds delivery routes from mine to consumer that don’t involve those same trains.  All nature of energy-intense small business depends on coal.  

    In any case, the estimate that “China singularly burns nearly 50% of the world’s coal per year” is a sobering fact.

    Just saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

    PS: for the engineering-notation purists, I prefer to keep all exponents the same in comparative writing (i.e. 285×10¹² instead of 2.85×10¹⁴), to let the mantissa parts speak for themselves, quantitatively. Its a helluva lot easier for most people to “see” the difference…

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  3. China also imports coal from the US. It is cheaper to ship bulk items like grain, oil, LNG, coal, etc. over water than over land (yes, even with rail), after all.

    Furthermore, China has floated the idea to US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer of buying even MORE from the US as part of a means to reduce the US trade deficit with China.

    So much for China’s ‘commitment’ with the so-called Paris Agreement.

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  4. Your math has gone astray, 226 x 20,000 tons= 4,520,000 tons, not 450,000 tons, at a length of 3,200 metres it seems likely that each train would be hauling 20,000 tons rather than 2,000 tons, so the error is more likely to be the 450,000 than the 20,000.

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  5. Of course this is one reason why they are moving the coal plants to the west where they mine the coal and send the electricity to the East with new HVDC lines. It saves on transporation costs, keeps the heavily populated east air cleaner and allows for more efficient and cleaner generation overall with newer plants. Similarly they are moving new solar and wind power to the East, which they could still easily double and together with the nuclear and the gas shale that they had started developing start moving completely away from coal. Very similar to us actually.

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