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
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64 thoughts on “Why China Is so Good at Building Railways

  1. Do not forget that some technologies of Chinese High Speed Railways are stolen from Japan and Germany.

  2. I have to say, this video is full of selective data and seem to be objective. However, it is not objective at all. The reason is, you are judging something by your arogant way or you are just misguiding people. Let me point out some of your mistakes.
    1. Your Chinese map missed an important part Taiwan. Both sides are belong to ONE China, and this is accepted by both governments in their constitutional laws.
    2. There is political thinking in some lines. And it is total fair and should be understood. Think about Scotland and Catalunya. A central government has the right to prevent division.
    3. Most important reason for developing railway instead of airline is the big population of China. It has to think it thoroughly to choose a cheaper solution for the national transportation. Not financially cheaper, but costing less energy.

    Stop being arogant and try to understand a people by their way of think. And that is called respect, which Chinese are always doing to the West.

  3. China does not let capitalists determine their transportation systems, unlike the USA. China under Mao also made a number of foolish decisions and built cement plants and steel mills before building rail lines to them. Central planning requires more intelligence though is still better than a privatized approach to providing vital public services efficiently.

  4. Without having watched the 100st video about Chinas successful high speed trains I know that they stole all technology involved.

  5. Organization, hard work, we Chinaren built railways in both the US and Canada, they tried to get other people building it, could not get done, eventually it's us, our labour made it happen. Think about it, we deserve the respect.

  6. 一,动车节能,中国发展新能源,风能,水能,太阳能,都可以用到动车上,抛弃传统的汽油,航空油,二,把小县城连接起来,减少co2,二,中国很多小县城封闭,不发达,动车连接起他们,将物流变得更便利快速和便宜,把福建,浙江的矿泉水卖到新疆,只要2元RMB,这对中国的人民意义很大,可以花更少的钱消费,同时把新疆的当地经济作物输出到全国。也许对政治家来说,人民的生活无关紧要吧,对中国人来说,改善生活,是最重要的,亏欠也无所谓

  7. Casual human rights violation 6:18 :shrug:

    I think China Rail is going over 6 trillion RMB this year because of the high speed rail (HSR) build-out. Might be 8 trillion RMB next year. Imagine being almost 1 trillion USD in debt.

    HSR over its high density east is might be worth the social benefit, but in the west, CR really could have stayed with the lower speed variety or freight-optimized. But China is gonna China.

  8. There isn’t any sense of profitability, only one reason : spent that money in China of infrastructures. Meanwhile, USA spent that damn money on the bomb of Afghanistan,Iraq,Iran,Syria…

  9. Trains, unlike air planes, do not cause air pollution. If you keep thinking of building cost and profit, you will ignore the environmental benefits. See, you did not calculate how much hydrocarbon will be produced if 1000 passengers are carried to a 1000 mile distant location — by and and by train.

  10. China may have vast numbers of poor people but it's in the space club and the nuclear club. It's a technological powerhouse, and any concessions people want to make to it as a "developing nation" are hideously inappropriate. Much the same goes for India.

  11. Communist China is engaged in international illegal drug trafficking and was caught shipping 52,000 lbs. of Fentanyl to the Sinaloa Mexican drug cartels by the Mexican navy. That is enough Fentanyl to kill 11 billion people!

  12. Everything seems to be correct until the Xinjiang part. There are cities between Lanzhou and Urumuqi including my city Xining, which is the capital of Qinghai provence and has more than 2 million population. Also there are other cities of Gansu province like Zhangye, Dunhuang and Jiayuguan(The end of The Great Wall).
    Do some research before say anything please.

    Besides, I'm wondering what you guys will say if the high speed rails end outside Xinjiang. Maybe something like “China only wants the land of Xinjiang without truely caring about the people there. Though there are thousands of mails of high speed rail in China, there is nothing in Xinjiang. Muslims there are left to die.”

  13. Remember how Eisenhower built the Interstate System? I-90 from Seattle all the way to Boston area covers huge sparse area and no tolls…. same strategy.

  14. I feel so bad for the residents of Hong Kong

    Another example of the Left sh*tting on colonialism and the white man.

    When I bet every single resident there would give everything they have in order to get England bank and renew another 100 year lease. Because of the Western world's influence. Hong Kong is far and away the most the free part of 'China' and it is being ruined. Chipped away at every single day. And China's politicians will not stop until it is unrecognizable. Very Very sad

  15. Property prices around the newly built railway stations generally jumps many fold. In my hometown, which is tiny by Chinese standards, an entire new district had essentially sprung from around the station in short time and it has became the new centre of activity and the town size probably increased more than 10 fold in less than a decade.

    The rail roads bring much more opportunities than airplanes can ever offer. Airplanes cannot stop mid route, while trains can. Rainways have the ability to turn sparsely populated areas to busy trading hubs.

    Remember how the American West was built? China is doing exactly the same albeit in a grander scale.

    So in many cases it is precisely because an area is sparsely populated that one needs to build rail and other land transportation systems into it. It is not a waste of money on the long term. It makes a transition from impossible to possible. Only with good transportation would any other investment opportunities arise.

    This is the true secret of how to increase the GDP of a country of vast size. You need to increase the value of your unused land.

  16. The UK has 10,072miles of track bit of a insult as we were the first to invent the steam train and first passenger line in the world.

  17. Wait; no one wants to travel between Denver and Seattle? And Salt Lake city and or/Boise *aren't in between them and aren't draws in and of themselves..?

    Are you high, Wendover Productions?

  18. If Chinese government want you to move out of your house for railway constructions, they normally give you one house per head in your family as compensation. In another word, if you have 3 family members living in the same house, you will get 3 separate houses as compensation with each house no smaller than your original house. It is not difficult to work out whether you gained or lost from it. 🙂

  19. For those who instinctively don’t like china, I got something to share

    When you want to learn something, it’s better to have a closer look, be in it and also observe it from far outside.

    I am Chinese, almost 31 and have always lived in China, except for the last 2 years I have been to more than 10 countries for business trip, US UK Japan, Denmark, Panama etc.And honestly I have never loved my country more (especially after using VPN) . I didn’t really like or hate CCP either but these 3months of VPN using, I find myself literally love and support CCP, sometimes forced by loads of intentional or non-intentional misconceptions towards China , Chinese people and CCP (Some even ignorant slams and curse)

    We are a nation that has suffered a lot in past 200 years. Sometimes I find myself in tears when reading the history. Invasions, wars, opium, etc. Okay something more personal. My grandma got blinded just because of a fever (no money to even cure a fever) my parents starved often when they were little. They walked 10 miles (with shoes made of grass) just to sell some wood for food When I was little, we lived in a house made of easy soil bricks , and I had to get up 3:00am to help my parents doing farm work (grow rice and peanut) . But now everything is so much better. House car college education and I am sure through our hardwork, it’s going to be better. (I know these are pretty basic for Americans and Europeans, but we gotta consider the different starting line) CCP is not perfect but they did lead Chinese people and help people get a much better life.

    I wish there could be a more open and fair media to let China be heard and understood.

    Chinese people are friendly and we love peace and care about development. We want no trouble with others. And we humbly want to know the world, learn English (the prevailing language among the world) and today if u go to Shanghai or Beijing asking for direction, most young people would be happy to help. And Most of them can speak English. It is a must subject in college entrence examination.

    Most Westerners have known China from media for so many years (from far away), we warmly welcome you to visit China. Come on, give your self a chance to learn a country that has 5000+ years history and indulge yourself for various delicious food and scenery.

    For this, I recommend you check a youtuber wherespoppy

  20. Oh I don't know, no labor laws, no environmental laws, no unions, when you don't have the usual hurdles to clear and a government that says "get to work or fuck off" you can do anything…It's amazing how foreigners use trains as bragging rights though. I must have missed something. And hey, that's all fine and well but every time you fuckers brag about your speed to an American, you conveniently leave out the other part of a railroad: the movement of goods. Which the USA does better than just about everybody else. In fact, Americans don't much rely on trains for their own transit, but the US economy THRIVES off of rail transport. It is HIGHLY successful, expansive and MASSIVELY profitable and works at a scale no other nation on earth can even comprehend. But yeah, they're slow….boo fucking hoo.

  21. Q: "Having a high-speed efficient rail network in china is doing is bring the country together and making it stronger even if it's bringing together people that want to stay apart."
    I was wondering what does "people wanted to stay apart" mean? Are there any people wanted to be completely isolated from the other parts of the world now? Even if there are some, could they represent the idea of millions of people's living in cities far away? That's ridiculous.

  22. China solía ser un país con pocas montañas y pocos pisos, y todavía pobre y atrasado. En solo 30 años, el desarrollo de China ha dado un salto. Los antiguos pobres ahora pueden ir al mundo para ver el mundo exterior, y el cielo está cambiando. El automóvil de fabricación china también es muy bueno. Puedes comprar un SUV por unos 15,000 yuanes. Los visitantes pueden caminar de noche en cualquier parte del país sin ningún robo.

  23. I think you nailed it with the property acquisition as a difference between the US and China. The US has difficult private property issues that are expensive and time-consuming to overcome. Political will is certainly an issue. I see private enterprise taking the lead in California and Florida as well.

  24. I m poor
    I live in poor country
    But i will not go china
    For richness
    Coz i love my freedom
    Can do whatever i want
    Can go wherever i want
    I love my poor filthy country
    Btw congrats china for devlopments 🙂

  25. The map of China in your video is not complete,pls do correction!
    您视频中中国地图不完整,请做出调整!

  26. 地图没有台湾?怎么举报?啊,不好意思,你们习惯性黑中国,毕竟你们的言论自由只对中国是双重标准!

  27. Your U.S. High Speed map is incorrect. That line in CT can only reach speeds of 110 mph. Acela trains on the NE corridor, east of New London, CT and south of Baltimore, MD can reach speeds of up to 150 mph. MARC trains south of Baltimore reach higher speeds than 100 mph on the NE corridor as well as NJ Transit trains south of New Brunswick on the NE corridor and MBTA trains north of Providence on the NE Corridor. I have ridden on all these trains with a speedometer. Heavy local rail traffic prohibits high speed travel on the rest of the NE Corridor.

  28. who cares the cost? The matter is US can just not build as rapid as whatever china built. For example, it took china only 4 years to build a brand new airport. However, it might take US 40 years to build a same brand new airport. So the cost is matter, the answer is no. Absolute no. It's matter of time.

  29. Chinese lad: I come from a small town in rural China.

    Me: Oh yeah, how many people live there?

    Chinese lad: Only about 4 million.

  30. The political will for serving the people that the communists ideology.
    Government serving for the big money that's the capitalists ideology.

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