English Blog
Sat, 19 Feb 2011

Amazing news about high-speed trains in China

The Washington Post makes an attempt to explain difficulties of high-speed rail to its readers. The text contains puzzling allegations about high-speed rail in China:

Sleek as they may be, China's new fast trains are too expensive for ordinary workers to ride, so they are not achieving their ostensible goal of moving passengers from the roads to the rails.

After reading this amazing statement, I looked up the results for the first high-speed line in China, Beijing-Tianjin, which went into operation in 2008, and allows to look at some preliminary results at least. Before inauguration, Beijing-Tianjin has had 8.3 million train rides per year. In the first year of high-speed operation, 15.8 million took the high-speed trains, and 2.9 million used conventional rail. From there, the line saw a steady increase of passengers, which now has passed 25 million per year. It will reach its break-even point at about 30 million riders.

For comparison, Amtrak's Acela Express attracts 3.2 million riders all along the way from Boston to Washington. Admittedly, this overweight underperformer is no match for a well-designed railroad system, but beating it 8:1 after two years is a noteworthy statement nonetheless.

If the Chinese can't afford to use these trains, this raises two questions:

  1. Who are those roughly 70000 riders per day, it it's not the Chinese?
  2. If the Chinese can't afford those trains, shouldn't this raise the number of bus riders?

To answer the second question: The number of bus rides between Beijing and Tianjin doesn't rise, but has fallen considerably, more than 30%. I'll leave the explanation, who those 70000 daily riders are, to the investigative journalists of the Washington Post.

My guess? I say they'll find out, that fact checking was not part of the publishing process for their article.