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China flexes its high-speed rail muscles by rolling out 32 new routes in one day

Reuters/Sheng Li
A bullet train in Shenyang, China.
By Lily Kuo
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Tomorrow China launches another 32 new high-speed rail routes, including a new link that cuts the 1,780 km (1106 miles) trip between Guangzhou and Shanghai to seven hours from 16. It’s an impressive feat that, if successful, is more proof of China’s resolve and capacity to become the global leader in high-speed rail technology.

As we’ve reported, China has lofty expectations of becoming a global leader in high-speed rail technology, with projects in over a dozen countries, as well as plans to more than double its own domestic network of high-speed rail, which is already the world’s largest. Last month, it began opening a high-speed railway in Xinjiang that is the beginning of a “New Silk Road” of land and maritime routes between China and the rest of Asia. More broadly, China aims to create a web of high-speed rail that reaches as far as America on one end and the United Kingdom on the other, with China in the middle and rail links across Central and Southeast Asia.

Wikipedia Commons
China’s proposed high-speed rail network for 2020 (including current lines.) China aims to have 125,000 km of high-speed rail by the end of 2015. The red lines indicate planned or current routes and the blue lines represent travel time.

But China’s rail dreams have not been without setbacks. Last month, Mexico killed a deal in which China would build a $3.7 billion high-speed train link between Mexico City and the center of the country—the first time a Chinese company would have built an entire high-speed train system overseas. Earlier this year, a “rice for high-speed rail” deal with Thailand also fell apart. Both deals appear to have been torpedoed mainly because of domestic reasons, but critics say the Chinese bidders also failed to really understand their target markets.

At home, critics have complained worried that China is building high-speed rail too quickly, especially after a deadly crash in 2011 left 40 dead.

Despite these setbacks, China is full speed ahead. In addition to tomorrow’s new routes, China Railway Construction Corp, the company that lost the Mexico deal, says it will bid again for the project.

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