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(Nanxiang Classification Yard. Pic Credit Wikipedia)

Rail is one of the most integral forms of transport in China. A country that covers a large part of the Asian landmass, rail is one of the most economical options to get around from the satellites to the centres. With a total network of 175,000 km of track, China has the second-longest railway system in the world. Moreover, it has the most extensive High-Speed Rail (HSR) network of about 29,000 km. Meeting the demands of modern times, China is continually developing its railways.

Railways in China has had a curious beginning in the late 19th century under the Qing government. When the British arrived at China’s shore, they brought with them the locomotive. The Qing dynasty perceived rail as an uninteresting western set up and dismantled the tracks laid by the British. The government largely remained hostile towards the railways till the beginning of the 20th century, when Zhan Tianyou, constructed the Beijing-Zhangjiakou railway. Railway expansion has been central to China’s development. In the 1950s, Chairman Mao heavily invested in railway networks and expanded them towards the western provinces of China.

(Illustration of first rail in China. Pic Credit Wikipedia)

Quick Statistics

This year China is moving towards an expansion of 33%, covering all cities with a population over 200,00. As of now, High-Speed Rail setups connect all major cities. The national government manages the bulk of the rail system. The state-owned China Rail Corporation operates the national railways along with the assistance of local governments. The China Rail Corporation has 21 subsidiaries that have specific regions under their jurisdiction. Each of these jurisdictions consists of hub stations that connect to smaller stations. The corporation and the subsidiaries reflect the functioning of the Hub and Spoke system, which is gaining traction in the rail freight industry. The rail network in China is one of the busiest as per rail usage in the world, with heavy passenger and freight traffic.

Freight trains in China have recently received a boost after the emergence of Belt and Road Initiative in 2013. In 2019, 4 billion tonnes of freight moved within the rail routes of the country. China also boasts the longest connection, that is between Yiwu and Madrid, in Spain, which is approximately a journey of 13,000 km. With these statistics, China realised the relevance of considering rail as a significant aspect of the supply chain industry. Relying on rail relieves the burden of the port cities in China and pushes for developments inwards.

(Rail Map of China, click to expand. Pic Credit: Travel China Guide- OS )

Light at the end of the tunnel?

The coronavirus pandemic brought forth unexpected dependence on rail freight, especially when it comes to conducting business between Europe and China. Over the past few months, international import/export from China to Europe has steadily increased after the air freight, and sea freight industry took a massive hit. Although the supply chain industry was affected, it was also supported other essential services during the crisis. As things have started to pick up, it is evident that the rail system between China and Europe is reliable and resilient.

The growing rail connections of the Belt and Road Initiative have created an abundance of opportunities for the supply chain industry. Routes connecting through the Eurasian land bridge and via Central Asia have also assisted in supporting and developing the economies of various nation-states. From its humble beginnings in the late 19th century, China has seen rapid growth and dependence on the rail network. Moreover, through the Belt and Road Initiative, they have promoted its necessity and benefits across the world.

Further Readings:

1. Railway Map of China

2. China's last steam train

3. Belt and Road Initiative

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