Country Driving and Transportation

Published on Author Duncan
A rendering of a map of China’s projected 2020 railway network with expected travel times from Beijing to the provincial capitals. (Source: Wikipedia)

In Hessler’s Country Driving, there are a lot of moments when Hessler is driving on the highways and there are no other cars except for the Liberation trucks. This contrasts greatly with the scenes in the cities where cars travel in packs, bumping up against one another. One of the things that we did not discuss in class but was mentioned briefly in the book was the use of rail as both a means of transporting goods and for travel.

When one of the trucks broke down, and someone needed to repair the truck, one of the drivers had to take a train from the nearest town with a train station to wherever the original plant was, totaling a four day trip. In the future, China plans to build railways that will allow people to travel around the country at very high speeds, some of the fastest being the intracity rails such as the line between Beijing and Shanghai (350kph/217mph) while other slower ones will provide travel from provincial capital to provincial capital (250kph/155mph).

This will not only allow be a more efficient means of moving cargo over long distances, but it will also enable people to travel without having to walk everywhere. If we imagine what Hessler’s story would be like with extensive rail networks, he might have a lot less to write about, at least in terms of the people he gave rides to.

Nevertheless, the expansion of railways will decrease transport costs and could extend to increasing trade with other countries (check Savas’s post and this article talking about a successful trip from Dursburg, Germany to Chongqing, China).

It will also help with urbanization and the development of the west.

4 Responses to Country Driving and Transportation

  1. See the supplemental readings, which look at this expansion. Complementing it is the expansion of expressways, which (if donkey carts can be kept off of them) can complement the rail network. However, as we’ve seen in the US, the flexibility of road transport as provided stiff competition for rail, and there is now air transport and long-distance buses. Will China move toward a European mix, or towards an American one?

  2. I am interested to see how future railroad expansion will impact migration and trade within China. Reducing travel times and increasing access to affordable transportation should further cement the trend of people moving from rural areas to cities. Railroad expansions should also help transport goods from rural areas to cities where they can be sold. An improved railroad network will help the people in western China benefit economically. It will also help modernize western China by providing easier access to the technologically up-to-date cities in eastern China.

  3. Given China’s geographic distribution and terrain, train travel does not necessarily seem like the most cost-effective or efficient way of moving people around the country. As air transportation becomes more prevalent globally as a common means of transportation, what steps has the Chinese government taken to improve aviation infrastructure? Is air travel as prevalent and accessible in China as it is in the US and other western countries? While a train may be most effective in transporting large amounts of freight long distances, has there been investment in intra-modal infrastructure? ie. distribution networks from rail to port or rail to road?

    • Perhaps, but most of the population is in a small slice of China near the coast. So just as rail works in the Boston-DC corridor in the US, it should be fairly effective in this part of China. Density is key, because it generates traffic all along a train route, and with downtowns still mattering in China, it may also deliver you closer to your destination. Going from Shanghai to Urumqi, well, I’ve done it both ways. It’s a two-day-long train ride…but still several hours by plane. The new high-speed system promises to cut the train to 12 hours; we’ll see.