Why China Is so Good at Building Railways

This video was made possible by Squarespace. Build your beautiful website for 10% off at
squarespace.com/Wendover. Imagine a train that took you from Washington,
DC to Dallas, Texas in nine hours… or Paris, France to Athens, Greece in nine hours…
or Adelaide, South Australia to Perth, Western Australia in nine hours. These train trips actually take 44 hours,
44 hours, and 41 hours respectively so the idea of making any of these trips by train
in nine hours seems almost absurd. In China, though, that’s reality. In September, 2018 the country opened up a
brand new high speed rail route with d irect trains from Hong Kong to Beijing. This is about the same distance as DC to Dallas,
Paris to Athens, or Adelaide to Perth and yet these trains make the trip in only 8 hours
and 56 minutes. What makes this even more impressive is that
ten years ago, in 2008, at the time of the Beijing Olympics, China’s high-speed rail
network consisted of this. We’ll have to zoom in because the extent
of the network was one 19 mile-long Maglev train from Shanghai Airport to the outskirts
of Shanghai and a traditional high-speed rail line from Beijing to the coastal city of Tianjin. Today, ten years later, that network has expanded
into this. China has eight times as much high speed track
as France, ten times as much as Japan, twenty times as much as the UK, and five-hundred
times as much as the US. In fact, China has as much high-speed rail
track as the rest of the world combined. It is staggering the amount of progress they
have made in such a short amount of time. Traditionally high speed rail exists in small
countries with rich populations by the likes of Germany, France, and Japan. China is neither of these things. The country is enormous, about the same size
as the US, and is also not rich. While no longer poor, China is definitively
a middle income country. It’s about as rich as Mexico, Thailand,
or Brazil. In fact, despite being the country with the
most high speed rail in the world, China is also the poorest country in the world to have
any high speed rail. Despite the country’s vast size, China’s
huge population makes it very dense especially in the east half. This means that China does have large cities
close enough together where it makes sense to take the train rather than the plane. Trips like Guangzhou to Changsha, a distance
of 350 miles, take an hour by plane or 2 hours and 20 minutes by train. When factoring in the time it takes to check
in, go through security, and board it absolutely makes sense to go by train when traveling
between these two cities even without considering that the high-speed train is cheaper than
flying. High speed rail even makes sense in China
on longer routes where it wouldn’t in other countries. Beijing and Shanghai, for example, are about
650 miles apart. Normally that would be too far for high speed
rail to make sense. Paris and Barcelona, for example, are 500
miles apart—closer than Beijing and Shanghai—but only two high speed trains a day run between
the two cities compared to about 20 flights. Between Beijing and Shanghai, on the other
hand, about 50 flights run per day run compared to 41 trains. Considering the trains carry far more people
each, up to 1,200, trains are therefore the dominant means of transport between these
two cities. There are a few differences between these
two routes. For one, while Beijing-Shanghai by train takes
4 hours and 28 minutes, Paris-Barcelona, despite being a shorter distance, takes a longer 6
hours and 25 minutes. The other factor, though, is about the competition. Europe has an efficient air transport network
dominated by budget airlines that are often far cheaper than trains. You can find tickets for flights between Paris
and Barcelona for as little as $12 while the cheapest Beijing-Shanghai flights go for $74. Air travel within China is also far from efficient. China Southern, China Eastern, and Air China,
the three largest Chinese airlines, arrive on time an average of 67%, 66%, and 63% of
the time respectively. A big reason for this is that there’s just
not enough room in the skies. A majority of China’s airspace is military
controlled meaning that there are just these narrow flight corridors that account for 30%
of airspace where civilian planes can fly. With tons of planes and not much room to fly
planes are frequently delayed by air traffic control to wait for the airspace to clear
up which leads to the abysmal on-time ratings of the country’s airlines. While the Beijing-Shanghai flight takes only
two hours the potential of delays, along with all the other factors that make air travel
slower, help make the train the popular means of transport on this longer route. Other train routes in China, though, make
less sense. For example, in 2014, the new high speed train
line opened between Lanzhou and Urumqi. These two cities are relatively small by China
standards. They both have a population of 3.5 million
and between them are only small towns. They’re also not close—about 1,000 miles
separate them. This project could therefore be compared to
building a high speed train from Denver to Seattle—they’re modestly sized cities
a long way’s apart with nothing big in between. Some people would use it but it wouldn’t
make any financial sense. In China, Lanzhou and Urumqi are not small
cities but there’s really nothing big in between and, at that distance, there’s no
sense not flying. The Lanzhou-Urumqi high speed train takes
11 hours compared to the 2.5 hour flight and the construction cost of that line was $20
billion meaning that, if every seat on every train was filled tickets would still have
to cost $400 each way just to make back the construction cost in 30 years. In reality tickets cost about $80 and trains
are far from full meaning that this rail line is just insanely far from profitable. The ticket revenues from these trains reportedly
don’t even cover the cost of electricity for the line let alone construction and other
operating costs. So why would the Chinese government sink so
much money into something that has no prospects of really ever making money? Well, politics. Urumqi is the capital of the Xinjiang province. While 92% of China’s population is Han Chinese,
the Xinjiang province is primarily Uyghur—one of the minority ethnic groups of China—and
there has been an ongoing fairly strong separatist movement by the Uyghurs from China that has
often turned violent. The central government in Beijing, however,
wants the Xinjiang province to be just as integrated as the rest of the country and
has tried a variety of methods to force this including moving Han Chinese into the region
and the imprisonment of Uyghurs in so-called “reeducation camps.” The high-speed train is just the most recent
tactic to bring Xinjiang closer to Beijing and this is no secret. The central government is fully upfront in
saying that the line was built to promote, as they call it, “ethnic unity.” This isn’t even the first time they’ve
used this tactic of railroad politics. Tibet, a region even better known than Xinjiang
for its independence movement, was the last region in China not to have a railway due
to its small population and intense terrain. The central government still wanted to build
one, though, to bring it closer to the rest of the country and so they did. Trains now run directly from Beijing to Lhasa,
Tibet in 47 hours on the highest elevation rail line in the world. These trains reach an elevation of 16,640
feet—so high that passengers have to use a direct oxygen supply. Even the train to Hong Kong serves the central
government’s goal of further integrating Hong Kong, which is an autonomous special
administrative region, into mainland China. While high-speed trains to Hong Kong certainly
do make a lot more sense than trains to the Xinjiang province, many Hong Kongers have
not greeted the new service kindly as they view it as an encroachment on the autonomy
guaranteed to them by Hong Kong Basic Law. The most controversial part has not been the
fact that there’s a train but rather that the station in Hong Kong includes an area
that is effectively now part of Mainland China since people pass through border controls
before boarding the train in Hong Kong. Just like any country, what having a high-speed,
efficient rail network in China is doing is bringing the country together and making it
stronger even if it’s bringing together people that want to stay apart. No matter their motives, it’s clear that
China is building their high speed rail network more efficiently than any other country. To compare, this is the plan for California’s
high speed rail line from San Francisco to the Los Angeles area. It’s currently in very early phases of construction
and is expected to open by 2029. Of course that means that the time it will
take for the California’s high speed rail network to go from this to this is the same
as the time it took China’s high speed rail network to go from this to this but, the main
thing to look at is cost. This Californian network is expected to cost
$77 billion and is 520 miles long meaning that it will cost $148 million per mile to
build. China, on the other hand, is building their
network at a cost of only $30 million per mile. Of course labor costs are lower in China and
their network crosses more rural areas where land acquisition costs are lower but, what’s
more meaningful is that they’ve turned building high speed rail into almost an assembly line
process where they can mass produce even the most expensive elements like viaducts and
tunnels. In true Chinese fashion, with scale they’re
making high-speed cheaper. The big difference between China and a lot
of the western world, particularly countries like the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand,
and the UK, is that high speed rail is at the top of the government’s priorities. Unsurprisingly given their government structure,
in many ways, China has placed social benefit, at least by the definition of the central
government, ahead of profitability when developing their high speed rail network. High-speed rail lines just aren’t as profitable
as other means of transport like planes but they are undoubtably better for countries
so you have to consider the social benefit when looking at their overall profitability. For the San Francisco to LA high speed rail
route, for example, one study found that the social benefit derived from lower carbon emissions,
higher worker productivity, and reduced casualties from fewer people on the road would be equivalent
to about $440 million per year. As it turns out, this is almost the exact
amount that the state will have to subsidize the line for it to break even. The China Railway Corporation, a state owned
enterprise, is actually slightly profitable, although it does have huge amounts of debts
and is helped by government subsidies. The benefit to the Chinese people, though,
is huge. The high-speed rail allows those who can’t
afford to live in the most expensive cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou to easily
commute from cheaper suburbs by high-speed rail. Thanks to the high-speed rail, there are now
75 million people who can commute to Shanghai in under an hour. It is growing what are already some of the
largest cities and, when it comes to cities, size is strength. These lines connecting the east’s largest
cities are some of the most profitable rail lines in the world and they’re making living
and working in China easier but the question is, when we look back decades from now, whether
the high-speed trains to smaller cities will have made sense. Out of a desire to keep the lines going straight
between the big cities, the stops for smaller cities are often out in the countryside dozens
of miles away from the city core. The high speed station for Hengyang, for example,
a smaller city of only a million, is about a 45 minute drive east of the city center. The hope is that new development will spring
up around the stations but this network structure, even if it saves time on the train, wastes
time before and after which degrades the benefit of high-speed rail. In all, China is really the first country
to have experimented with long-distance, high speed rail through less-dense areas in its
west. In the east, though, these trains are enlarging
the country’s economic power. It’s just one of the many factors speeding
up China’s catch-up with world’s richest countries. Even though China is building these trains
for less and innovating on the construction of high-speed rail, the real reason why China
is so good at building railways is because they have the one thing that almost every
other country lacks—the political will for high-speed trains. Whenever I’m looking to to launch something
new one of the first things I think about is how to present it online. I think about domain names, emails, websites,
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the show by using that link.

Maurice Vega

100 Responses

  1. Conclusion, or you live in a communist Dictatorship and you have a good transport system, or in a democracy and there are fewer benefits, you choose, I chose to live in a Democracy and buy me a car. I reiterate the transport system in European countries like Spain , France, Germany, England are good.

  2. CHINA





  3. The reason China has built Beijing – Urumqi high speed train line is not just because of separatist Uyghurs , there is a plan to connect it to Moscow through Kazakhstan, that region is the region that China has border with populated part of Pakistan and it seems both countries are interested in developing economic relations.

  4. what other countries don't understand is that China cares about infrastructure. Other countries like America "we will not connect these 2 cities because whose going to pay for it? no profit". China will literally build high speed roads because it will create easy transport no matter where you go and in large numbers. They're gonna create mega-cities that hold 100 million people and create little cities for business. Megacities where you live that connect to a working city, so it's like you're travelling from your home to work from 1 city to another.



  7. Think about this. It is huge country, there is minimum airspace, there are more than a ‘billion people’ who need to travel fast, last but not the least the fastest growing economy in the world that can afford to spend and take risks. Do you even have a choice other than train to commute? Their strength their population!

  8. Also forgot to mention the farther railways were built to increased tourism and thus financial flow into xinjiang and tibet that are poorer areas

  9. China is a COMMUNIST country and does what it wants at will regardless of the people…that's why they build trains where they want and as fast as they want. You provide this rosy narrative that China is on the same playing fields as other countries. Not true. They don't go through the same approval processes for financing, infrastructure, and legislative approval that all the western countries do to protect your rights as a citizen. That's the real reason. We fought two wars to stop communist rule and a 40-year cold war against the communist Soviet Union aggression, and if you think they have altruist endeavors just look at Hong Kong or Uyghur today.

  10. Surprised that on the comparative at the begining there is no mention to Spanish High speed net which is in fact the 2nd longest after china's… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AVE

  11. It seems that the bigger point is that they are not necessarily GOOD at train traveling, it's that they are BAD at air travel.

  12. To be honest, China will still be
    no. 1 with or without trade war after no of decades.Not U.S. nor even mention about Taiwan used by western world as a trump card to suppress development of China. Taiwan's GDP used to be 1/2 China now is only 1/20. Will it be back to half of China or 1/5 of China the answer is definitely no. The iconic industry in Taiwan is only semiconductor industry left as no. 1 in the world and a small place without much resources, well infrastructure, system, lifestyle, environment and strong economy and power and energy industry to support it's development so it's population is continuously declining and moving out. The reason why western world support Taiwan is due to the fact of their national interest not values or sincere relationship or any culture or arts and beauty attractions from it. Ask most people in the world if you gonna choose a place to live or travel, would you choose China, Japan, South East Asia, Australia, U.S. and Europe or you gonna choose Taiwan? So sometimes you have to let go, and now it's time to let go Taiwan and it's good for everyone to prevent next war.

  13. 我们的高铁网络可以在最快最安全的情况下运输大量的军用单位,可以以最快的速度调动大量军队和武器,远比飞机好的多

  14. 🇨🇳 Will rule the world few years to come the united snakes of America is losing it's grip as a super power

  15. A working class Chinese has traveled all over the country due to cheap railway prices. If you're a working class American, well, prepared to get stuck in your small town lol.

  16. What could be more important, in preparing students for competitive S.T.E.M. careers, than: In January, New Jersey followed California to become the second state in the country to require that public schools teach LGBTQ- and disability-inclusive curricula.
    Cirulli also called out Garden State Equality, an LGBTQ advocacy organization that helped pass the bill. The group's executive director Christian Fuscarino told CNN he spoke to Cirulli Wednesday.

    We sure do have our priorities in order! LOL!

  17. OK. China builds railways and trains to increase tourism and business. They suck at the plane industry. Cars, terrible. Gas? LOL

  18. This is just the view of the white pig. The Chinese think that time is money and save time with the lowest cost.

  19. "The one thing the Chinese have…Is the political will forhigh speed rail." @wendoverproductions

    That's because the Chinese are not free. Disagree with the official opinion of The Party if you dare to disagree…

  20. Chinese here. The HSR network is impressive but still improvable. The Chinese are using HSR as a substitute of airlines. This is NOT right. Neither the FR UK DE nor US are right either. Japanese did the right plan by luck and chance, not by mind.

    The right plan: Metrolined operation.

    Dispatch: 15 minutes between trains. Tickets are not corresponding to a specified train but any train operating on the line. Like metro.
    Trains only stop for a brief period, i.e. 40 seconds. Even at big stops it stays no more than 2 minutes.

    Station deployment: around 25km between stations. Big city may have multiple stations covering different sections of the city. (There are always population in most area of China just like Japan) The station does NOT require a big waiting room as passengers are sent away with little waiting time.

    Rolling stock: Electric Multiple Units with STRONG accleration and deaccleration. (Around 3kph/s or 0.08G) This allows running at top speed with the maximum possible duration. (Too slow accleration lead to braking before reaching max speed)
    Metrolined carriages. Carriages just like the metro. More doors to allow faster boarding/unboarding. Side faced seats just like the metro to allow more capacity. (Most passengers have to stand their way though)

    Do these and passengers would just use this rail for commute and short distance manuever. It would be a great social benefit as well as being profitable (the commute traffic is HUGE).

  21. As always, ideology biased views. At least this time we are not accused of stealing technology. Seriously, who paid for incredible expensive railway to Xizang and Xinjiang? Chinese tax payers did, to keep the People there from rotting in the wasteland. Yet this is evil politics violating human rights. You people just never learn. Also it’s disgusting excluding Taiwan from the map. Your president signed on paperworks that said Taiwan is part of China. So be respectful.

  22. When you talk profitability there is more to it than just tickets and building cost. I mean, if you're a private company than sure, nothing else matters. But if you're controlled by state… Government is concerned with how well the whole country is doing. Having your people be able to travel fast is very good for economy. I'm not a fan of China and communism in general, but sometimes certain things work out better in such system.

  23. I love how everyone in the comments have forgotten that china have practically sold the souls and rights of their workers to build these lines so efficiently lmao

  24. They build them to help control the masses! Could you imagine people in China driving for 3 days from one end to the other spreading thoughts and ideas quietly and covertly? Using a train the the government still controls what you listen to and where or if you stop and smell the roses

  25. You think Urumqi is 3.4 mil nothing now. We built it on the premises that this city is gonna be a exchange hub in the belt and road with a population of about 25 million people within a decade or two.
    Whenever you think we have one purpose, think again and again.

  26. The reason is simple and its the same as the reason for why China is so good at everything else as well: They throw money at it.

  27. In PRC when the gov say they want something, they will get it. Meanwhile, in countries run by conglomerates and corporations, the gov can't get what they want if it is not in their interest.

  28. Also, China could do it so much cheaper because they spent no money on R&D by stealing all their high speed rail tech from Japan and Europe

  29. Actually it is famous in Japan that china stole and copied Shinkansen technology from Japan but basically Japan can’t do anything about it since they afraid of trade revenge as Japan relay import export hugely in China.

  30. let's learn something today: https://fortune.com/2013/04/15/did-china-steal-japans-high-speed-train/
    And: https://youtu.be/dGXPgqnw98s

  31. BECAUSE THEY DONT NEED TO DO A FUCKING VOTE TO BUILD A RAILWAY. like in USA if you wanna build somethin like this you needa to a vote ffs

  32. sure build a train route with no stops and of course it's shorter. You can't compare China, a communist country with non-communist country. The Chinese government is actually very rich. this is has a lot of wrong facts.

  33. I went to China for a holiday a few weeks ago and the high speed rail network is mind boggling. For example, Beijing alone has 3 high speed rail stations which are YUGE.

  34. Hey wendover, I'm just curious about what kind of software you use for these animations to narrate.
    That's super cool.

  35. What land appropriation costs for China? The party owns everything, they just take what they want and tell people where to go for work. The lower class Han are thrilled for the opportunity.

  36. [转]看得我很很感触 “十几年前我还很小的时候,我们还很穷,干什么都不成。报纸上天天在讨论温包问题,说贫困村一家人只有一条裤子,港澳台同胞就像是天外来客,吃穿用度都让人嫉妒成恨。那时候,美国有个总统叫克林顿,他英俊潇洒风流倜傥指哪打哪。海湾战争让所有的中国军人崩溃,泪流满面的说,原来打仗已经变成了这样。在电视里看到台海危机,大人们都紧张兮兮。后来才知道,那时候是真的担心会输。再后来,南斯拉夫大使馆被炸了,我们很愤怒,却只能愤怒。全中国都在关心克林顿的下半身,因为除了这个,美国再没有什么可以嘲笑的了。我们努力造工厂,造玩具,造衣服,上亿的劳工从内地来到沿海。他们说,8亿件衬衫能换一架飞机。那时候,海里没有大船,主力还是炮艇。歼十是了不起的最高机密,一般人我们都不告诉他。世界在不断的改变,改变……我们还是很穷,好像干什么都不成。报纸上不在出现温保二字,而是在讨论民生问题。贫困村不再只有一条裤子,留守儿童、孤寡老人成了新的难题。台湾开通了自由行,去过的朋友都说也不过如此。GDP超越了德意志,干掉了英吉利,发电量超越了美利坚。这是人类历史上的第一次。世界上最大的钢铁生产国是中国,第二是河北,第三是唐山,我们不再捉襟见肘,开始担心产能过剩环境污染。美国换了总统,又换了总统,他们打了伊拉克,又打了阿富汗,再打了利比亚,最后没钱打叙利亚。那个愁眉苦脸的小黑干的很苦逼,国会忙着干架,政府等待关门,我们不再对波士顿惨案幸灾乐祸。美利坚还在折腾,大人们不再紧张。反而说,嗨,小马哥长的不错,吉利干了沃尔沃,联想成了PC全球第一。我们造了全球一半的高铁,日法德加在忙着争论,是谁让中国偷走了核心技术。我们把机床卖给了德国,把军公带进了北约。美国人宣布判决,说中兴和华为是邪恶企业。哦!当然,这份名单上还有北方工业和中国精密机械。航母已经成军,舰载机挂弹起飞。歼十不再是稀罕,我们告诉一般人,歼二十即将服役。卫星忙着编队,导淡打进太空。我们说,那就自己建一个空间站吧。时间在不停的走远,走远….现有近一半的欧美人说,中国才是最强的经济体。生活越来越好,问题越来越多,视野越来越广,想要的也越来越复杂。但回想过去,我们已经站在近百年来最好的时候。本朝已承平60年有余,按我中华之惯例,应该准备迎接盛世了。我们又成为了世界上最牛逼的那几个国家,但那也没什么可以骄傲的,在过去的几千年里,我们常常如此!

  37. 1: Normal people has no property rights on the land
    2: They have very small concern about the environmental impact
    3: They have a cheaper labour
    4: They country has a huge population and it is the only option for most of the people to get fast to their destinations

  38. It's amazing when you see the average speeds of such services. In the United States, the fastest you can get from New York to DC by train is 3 hours, and for 300 km, that's only an average of 100 km/h. In the UK, the fastest from London to Edinburgh is 4 hours, and over 600 km that's 150 km/h, better but not great. In France, Paris to Lyon is 2 hours for 400 km, making 200 km/h. And in China, that same Beijing to Shanghai route makes 250 km/h. It really shows how fast those trains go. (Note these are all the fastest services available, and normal ones will be slower).

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