Railways in China

In China, train is an important mode of long-distance travel. According to the “Railway Construction and Development Plan” issued by the National Development and Reform Commission, the total mileage of railways in China is expected to reach 150,000 kilometers by 2020. China’s railways are among the busiest in the world and more travelers choose to travel China by train. 

Development of Railways in China

Before People’s Republic of China

China has railways since the end of the Qing dynasty. However, the Qing government was corrupt, conservative and autocratic, and refused to accept new things. So it stubbornly refused to build railways. On July 3, 1876, the first railway appeared in China, Woosong railway – a 14 km railway from Shanghai to Woosung (modern Shanghai’s Baoshan District). It was dismantled one year later due to without the approval from the Qing government. Before 1895, the government remained hostile toward railway construction. After that, the government began offering railway concessions to foreigners and allowing direct links to the capital Beijing.

The first railway to be indigenous-designed and -constructed in China was the Beijing-Zhangjiakou railway, built between 1905 and 1909. By 1911, 5,600 miles of railway lines had been completed. During the republic of China period from 1912 to 1949, the development of China’s railway network slowed due to needy and war time. Most of the lines are concentrated in northeast China and coastal areas, with only 6 percent extending to other areas.

After People’s Republic of China

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China,  the new government under Mao Zedong significantly invested in the railway network. In 1949, a total of 8,278 kilometers of railway lines were restored. By the end of 1949, China had 21,810 kilometers of railways in operation. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the railway routes, especially in western China, were expanded. In southwest China, where the terrain is rugged, several mountain railways have been built, such as the Baoji-Chengdu railway, built in the 1950s, and the Chengdu-Kunming railway, built in the 1970s. The railway to Tibet, one of the highest in the world, was finally completed and opened to the public in 2006. Today, with the exception of Macao, every provincial entity in the People’s Republic is connected to the railway network.

China trains have experienced six speedups since 1997. The top speed of express trains has increased from 120 kilometers per hour to 200 kilometers per hour, while the top speed of passenger trains can reach 350 kilometers per hour in some sections.

Railway Classification

Code for Design of Railway line (1975) : According to the regulations, the classification of new railways and reconstructed railways (or sections) shall be determined according to their role in the railway network, their nature and the long-term passenger and freight volume. China railways were divided into three levels, namely, Ⅰ level, Ⅱ level, Ⅲ level.

  • Ⅰ level railway: The backbone of China railway network, with the forward annual passenger and cargo volume of 20 million tons or more;
  • Ⅱ level railway:
    1. The backbone of China railway network, with the forward annual passenger and cargo volume of < 20 million tons.
    2. The railway that plays a liaison and auxiliary role in the road network has a forward annual passenger and cargo volume of ≥10 million tons;
  • Ⅲ level railway: Only serve a region with the characteristics of regional transportation and a forward annual passenger and cargo volume of < 10 million tons

Management Organization

On March 16, 2013, the Ministry of Railways was abolished and divided into China Railway Administration and China Railway Corporation. On December 6, 2018, the enterprise name of China National Railway Group Co., Ltd. has been approved. It takes railway passenger and freight transport service as its main industry. China Railway Administration shall assume other administrative duties of the ministry of railways.

The national railway transportation system adopts the three-level management system of Ministry of Railways, China Railway Administration and base stations. The national railway has 18 railway bureaus (companies) and 40 railway offices. 

Read more about China Railway Corporation.

Six Speedups of China Railways

The First Time: 1 April, 1997

The speed-raising is mainly carried out in Beijing-Guangzhou, Beijing-Shanghai and Beijing-Harbin trunk lines. Lines that exceed 120 km/h will be extended to 1,398 km/h, those that exceed 140 km/h will be extended to 588 km/h, and those that exceed 160 km/h will be extended to 752 km/h.

The Second Time: 1 October, 1998

The speed-raising is still mainly carried out in Beijing-Guangzhou, Beijing-Shanghai and Beijing-Harbin trunk lines. Lines that exceed 120 km/h will be extended to 6,449 km/h, those that exceed 140 km/h will be extended to 3,522 km/h, and those that exceed 160 km/h will be extended to 1,104 km/h.

The Third Time: 21 October, 2000

The speed-raising is mainly carried out in Longhai, Lanzhou-Xinjiang, Beijing-Kowloon and Zhejiang-Jiangxi line. Lines that exceed 120 kilometers per hour will be extended to 9,581 kilometers, those that exceed 140 kilometers per hour will be extended to 6,458 kilometers, and those that exceed 160 kilometers per hour will be extended to 1,104 kilometers.

The Fourth Time: 21, November, 2001

The speed-raising scope is mainly the Beijing-Kowloon line, Wuchang-Chengdu (Hankou-Danjiang, Xiangyang-Chongqing, and Dazhou-Chengdu), the southern section of the Beijing-Guangzhou line, the Zhejiang-Jiangxi line, and Harbin-Dalian line. Lines that exceed 120 km/h will be extended to 13,166 km/h, lines that exceed 140 km/h will be extended to 9,779 km/h, and lines that exceed 160 km/h will be extended to 1,104 km/h.

The Fifth Time: 18, April, 2004

On April 18, 2004, China railway increased its speed for the fifth time. After five times’speedup, some sections of the road opened a direct train, so that the journey time again shortened.

The Sixth Time: 18, April, 2007

The speed of 120 km/h above the line extension length will reach more than 22,000 km, of which more than 5,300 km/h will reach 200 km/h. 

By the sixth big speed-up, the railway lines above 120 km/h will reach 24,000 km/h, among which the lines above 160 km/h will reach 16,000 km/h, the lines above 200 km/h will reach 6,227 km/h, and the lines above 250 km/h will reach 1,019 km/h. Train times between provincial capitals, as well as between big cities, are generally half as fast as they were before the first big speed increase in 1997.

Railway Stations in China

Railway stations in China are divided into six grades: special, first, second, third, fourth and fifth. There were 5,470 railway stations in China, including 50 first-class stations, 236 first-class stations, 362 second-class stations and 936 third-class stations. Early Chinese railway stations were usually located in the center of a city or town. New stations are usually far from the city center and most of them in big cities can be reached by subway.

A special station can carry at least 60,000 passengers and 20,000 pieces of luggage a day; a first one at least 15,000 passengers and 1500 pieces of luggage a day; a second one at least 5000 passengers and 500 pieces of luggage a day. See more about Railway Stations in China.

Types of China Trains

China Normal Trains

According to the speed and age of equipment, they are identified by Direct Express Passenger Train (Z), Express Passenger Train (T), Express Passenger Train (K), General Train (Four-digit Digital Train), Tourist Tour Train (Y), Temporary Passenger Train (L), and Suburban Commuter Rail(S).

  • Z Trains: Direct express service between two cities, with few or no stops; often overnight trains. The highest speed is 160 kilometers (99 miles) per hour.
  • T Trains: Long distance service stopping only at provincial capitals, subprovincial-level and major prefecture-level cities. Maximum speed 140 km/h (87 mph). 
  • K Trains: Service stopping at prefectural and higher-level cities. Maximum speed 120 km/h (75 mph).
  • General Train: Stop very often and cover many villages. Have just numbers and no letter prefix.
  • Y Trains: Run between places of interest and large & medium-sized cities. They are faster with fewer stops and more advanced bodywork.
  • L Trains: They are additional passenger trains to meet the needs of seasonal and occasional passenger flow. Train trips usually begin with the first letter L.
  • S Trains: In some big cities it is used for commuting between the city centre and the suburbs.

China High-speed Trains

  • G Trains: The fastest trains among all the high speed trains in China. Long distance high-speed service with a speed of 250-400km/h. G-series trains take less time to reach their final destination because they stop at fewer stations on the route. 
  • C Trains: Intercity service. They usually travel at speeds below 200 km/h. By May 2018, more than 260 railway stations had passed by train C.
  • D Trains: Long distance service with EMU. Maximum speed 200–250 km/h (120–160 mph). Only D-series operate overnight high speed trains in China.

See more about China High Speed Train Types.

China Railway Network

By the end of 2018, China’s railway mileage had reached 131,000 kilometers, ranking first in Asia and second in the world. The eight vertical and eight horizontal lines are the short-term plans for China’s high-speed rail network.

Eight Verticals

  • Coastal Passageway: Dandong-Fanggangcheng; the extension of Hangzhou-Fuzhou-Shenzhen Passageway.
  • Beijing-Shanghai Passageway: The complex Line of Beijing-Shanghai High Speed Railway
  • Beijing–Hong Kong (Taipei) Passageway: A new passageway. 
  • Harbin–Hong Kong (Macau) Passageway: The combination line of existing Beijing-Harbin line and Beijing-Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong high-speed railway, together with the Guangzhou-Zhuhai-Macao branch line.
  • Hohhot–Nanning Passageway: A new passageway.
  • Beijing–Kunming Passageway: A new passageway.
  • Baotou (Yinchuan)–Hainan Passageway: A new passageway.
  • Lanzhou (Xining)–Guangzhou Passageway: A new passageway.

Eight Horizontals

  • Suifenhe–Manzhouli passageway: A new passageway.
  • Beijing–Lanzhou passageway: A new passageway.
  • Qingdao–Yinchuan passageway: The extension line of Qingdao-Taiyuan passageway.
  • Fuzhou-Yinchuan passageway: The extension line of Fuzhou-Yinchuan high-speed rail.
  • Continental Bridge passageway: The extension line of Xuzhou-Lanzhou passageway.
  • Yangtze River passageway: Complex Line based on Shanghai-Wuhan-Chengdu passage.
  • Shanghai–Kunming passageway: Shanghai-Kunming high-speed railway.
  • Xiamen–Chongqing passageway: A new passageway.
  • Guangzhou-Kunming passageway: A new passageway.

See more about China High Speed Railways.

International Railways to China

International Railways to China mainly link the counties of Europe and southeast Asian. China is a member of the international railway union (UIC), also a signatory to the Trans-Asian railway network agreement, an initiative of the United Nations economic and social commission for Asia and the Pacific to promote the integration of rail networks in Europe and Asia.

See more about International Railways to China.

Popular China Train Routes

In China, train is an important mode of long-distance travel. China’s high-speed railway network is by far the longest and the most comfortable HSR in the world. Convenient railway network in China boosts train travel greatly. Traveler who like different landscapes must try to travel by train in China, because you will surprise by the drawing on the windows of the train. See below popular China train routes or contact our consultant to tailor-make your amazing China train tours!

8 Days Beijing-Xian-Shanghai Tour by Speed Train

9 Days Southern China Tour

11 Days Tibet Mount Everest Tour from Shanghai by Train

12 Days Sichuan-Tibet Train Tour

13 Days Qinghai and Tibet Train Tour from Beijing

25 Days South China Minorities Discovery by Speed Train