Global Times: Railway’s rapid development embodies the modernization of a huge population, taking people home and to dreams


Over a century ago, the Beijing-Zhangjiakou railway line, constructed under the leadership of the “Father of Chinese Railways,” Zhan Tianyou, became China’s first independently designed and built railway line.

However, he probably had never imagined that a century later, advanced Fuxing bullet trains at a speed of 350 kilometers per hour would be running between Zhangjiakou and China’s capital city of Beijing, on this line – one of the smartest railway liens in the country, which became one of the highlights of the Beijing Winter Olympics, drawing global attention.

Behind the huge contrast is the development of the innovation of China’s railway lines, stands the Chinese path to modernization, which is the modernization of a huge population.

In a country with a large population and a vast territory, many regions face transportation challenges, especially those that are impoverished. However, China has embarked on a unique path of innovation in this field, emerging as a world leader in the high-speed railway industry.

The railway network spans across China, and even across the world, providing people with a fast, convenient, and safe mode of transportation, propelling them toward Chinese modernization.

A tale of two cities

Wang Jiujun stands on a tower at the Great Wall in Zhangjiakou, facing Beijing, but his line of vision is obscured by mountains far away.

More than 110 years ago, these mountains stood as a transport network barrier, making the plan to construct a railway line connecting Beijing and Zhangjiakou an impossible mission. Some people pessimistically opined that “the person who could build such a railway line in China had not yet been born.”

The success of the railway line, which was completed in 1909, shattered the misconception that “Chinese people were incapable of building their own railways.”

Exactly 110 years later, Wang, the deputy director of the Transportation Safety Department of the China National Railway Group Beijing-Zhangjiakou Intercity Railway Co Ltd, would often think about Zhan’s story while resolving new challenges he met in the process of building the new Beijing-Zhangjiakou railway line, with high-speed trains capable of traveling at a speed of 350 kilometers per hour.

The first challenge that Wang and his team had to overcome was how to make the high-speed railway line pass through the core area of the megacity of Beijing using underground tunnels.

A 6,022-meter long tunnel had to traverse an extremely complex underground system of the city. The tunnel intersected with three Beijing subway lines, ran parallel to another line, and crossed underneath numerous major urban roads and underground utility networks.

“If we were to compare Beijing to a human body, we would be performing a bridge surgery in a densely vascularized area,” Wang explained.

To conquer such challenges, Wang and his team were brave enough to dare to push the boundaries of railway construction, overcoming some world-level difficulties by tunneling through densely populated areas in Beijing and integrating the new railway line into China’s modern high-speed rail network.

With the efforts of over 500 construction workers and within a period of more than 1,000 days, the Beijing-Zhangjiakou high-speed railway line was finally completed and inaugurated in its entirety in 2019.

Based on the BeiDou satellite system and the GIS (Geographic Information System), this high-speed railway line achieved intelligence in construction, operation, scheduling, maintenance, and emergency response.

Various passenger-friendly technological designs made the line a popular attraction for athletes and media professionals alike during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

Even after the Olympics, the high-speed railway line continues to provide “Olympic-standard” service to every passenger. With the help of high-speed rail, the winter sports industry in the region has also gained new opportunities.

“Previously, it took over two hours to travel between Beijing and Zhangjiakou, but now the journey has been reduced to one hour, or even 50 minutes. Many people come to Zhangjiakou, to Chongli county, to experience skiing and feel the atmosphere and enthusiasm of the Winter Olympics,” Wang said.

Today, plans to further expand the Beijing-Zhangjiakou high-speed railway line are underway, traversing the mountains and across the grasslands, to finally be connected to Xilinhot city, North China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. “This way, we can contribute our efforts to the local development and rural revitalization of eastern Inner Mongolia,” Wang said.

Deep in the mountains, Wang and his team continue this arduous work, finding ways to surmount arising challenges and difficulties.

“Resolving these difficulties is like eating nuts, right? Each time you crack one open, there is a tasty reward inside. There are always intermediate achievements,” Wang concluded.

A witness of progress

With a population of over 1.4 billion people, China has experience in massive population mobility. In Wang Jiujun’s memory, the journey back to home before the Spring Festival used to be a difficult one.

“During the Spring Festival travel rush, people would cram into trains through the doors and squeeze themselves through the windows. It was a real struggle to get on the train, and once on board, it was so crowded that you couldn’t even touch the floor. No to mention that the green trains were so slow,” he said as he reminisced on the bitter-sweet memories.

Developing high-speed railways has become one of the effective solutions to alleviate the difficulties of the Spring Festival Travel rush, what is considered to be the world’s largest annual human migration.

By the end of 2022, China boasted of a railway network spanning 155,000 kilometers, with over 42,000 kilometers dedicated to high-speed rail. This vast network is also being rapidly expanded.

The railway networks are taking people home, as well as taking them to their dreams.

Over recent decades, the “green train” which runs through the Daliang Mountains in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province, became an important part of the production activities and lives of the local people, heralding the transformation of the Yi people’s way of life.

In December 2022, the new 915-kilometer-long Chengdu-Kunming railway line went into operation, bringing high-speed trains to the hinterland of the Daliang Mountains.

But the traditional “green trains” still serve as important capillaries, ferrying passengers to every corner of the country. In the vast forests of the Greater Hinggan Mountains in northern China, the slow-moving trains not only continue to transport residents of the forest farms to various destinations they need to reach for their livelihoods, but have also become favored tourist route, allowing urban dwellers accustomed to a fast-paced life to slow down.

Chinese high-speed rail has provided the Chinese people with an excellent travel experience and a sense of happiness. The diversification and optimization of online and offline ticket purchase channels have addressed the issue of ticket scarcity. High-quality services and facilities have resolved the issue of travel fatigue.

During the 2023 Spring Festival travel rush, the national railway network in China transported a total of 348 million passengers, with an average of 8.7 million passengers per day. There were 11 days during which the daily passenger volume exceeded 10 million, according to the China News Agency.

A calling card of openness

With the rapid development of China’s railway network and the deepening of high-quality construction under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the country’s opening-up efforts have expanded continuously. International cooperation has achieved significant results, with more Chinese railway lines taking root in AsiaEuropeAfrica, and other regions, yielding fruitful outcomes.

China has always been an open country. Chinese people desire to make friends, help others, and use our wisdom to assist in global development,” Wang said. “That is why we have the BRI and have established railway cooperation with multiple countries regionally and globally.”

The China-Laos Railway, for example, has officially opened, and created a transportation artery linking China‘ southwestern region with Southeast Asia.

The opening of the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway line will further promote Chinese high-speed rail globally. This will allow more people to see, experience, and share the benefits of Chinese high-speed rail technology.

Moreover, the ChinaEurope freight trains, shuttling day and night, have rapidly transformed into a vibrant “golden gateway” and an important platform for China’s participation in global openness, cooperation, and the construction of the BRI.

The building and upgrading of the railway linking Budapest in Hungary to Belgrade in Serbia, a major project under the BRI, also symbolizes the deep cooperation between China and Europe. The project, aiming to help the two countries build logistics hubs and enhance the construction of infrastructure to boost economic development, will significantly shorten travel time for passengers and cargo from the two cities when completed.

As China vigorously promotes its Chinese path to modernization, the Chinese railway network, as exemplified by high-speed rail, is also embracing open and mutually beneficial development, contributing even more to the building of a community of shared future for mankind.

“By cooperating with other countries and regions, Chinese high-speed rail development can allow more people greater access in travel and rich experiences,” Wang said.

SOURCE Global Times