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The World's Largest Bullet-Train Network is in China, Critics and Experts Express Concerns

Jan 26, 2017 08:03 AM EST
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China is known for its bullet-trains, allowing people to be able to go to their destinations in almost a blink of an eye. However, in what appears to be a miraculous feat, all of its bullet-trains are now connected in a vast network.The country has a whopping 20,000 kilometers, or 12,500 miles, of high-speed rail lines. This is more than the rest of the world combined. 

In a report from Economist, China is also still planning to make another 15,000 kilometers by 2025. Interestingly, there's a lot of urban growth alongside the tracks. If there's a station, chances are, offices and residential blocks form on the ground.

It seems China's planners seek to help these railway towns flourish like how they did in America and Britain in the 19th century. However, the rush to build accumulates inevitable, and the question is whether the gains will outweigh the losses.

Five years after the busiest bullet-trains started running in the Beijing-Shanghai Line, it's obvious that high-speed rails have been a blessing. It's helped create a deeply-connected economy. However, when it comes to further inland, there tends to be a bit of questions on investment.

In the country's three big population centers -- namely Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou -- life and work have started to revolve around the high-speed rains themselves. However, they tend to be too infrequent, slow, or even too crowded for daily commutes.

Now these mega-cities are forming commuter corridors, which is of good reason given the house prices in these "satellite towns" are cheaper. 

Surveys have shown that more than half of the passengers of the busiest lines are "generated traffic," meaning they're people that make trips they wouldn't have made before. Of course this is good for the economy, as the trains are expanding the pool of labor and consumers around China's most productive cities. However, bullet-trains are more than just a mode of transport.

According to the Economist, China wants to build a "high-speed rail economy." It seems the idea is that, the bigger the city, the wealthier and more productive the people will be. The idea is to "cap" the size of mega-cities, but achieve the "enriching effect" with the help of bullet trains. 

However, the OECD, a rich-country think-tank, thinks it may even cost 90 percent more to build lines for trains that reach 350 kph than the ones that travel for 250 kph. For longer lines with more than 100 million passengers a year and travel time of five hours or less, it may make more sense to opt for the expensive type. 

The cost may be less for journeys between commuter towns, as trains only briefly accelerate to top speeds. However, longer journeys such as those in small towns, may cost more than high-speed rails. 

Sadly, the trend right now is that China is placing railway stations far from city centers. Of course bigger cities will eventually grow around their stations, but suburban locations will not be able to produce the returns the central locations do.

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