By the end of 2023, the total length of China’s high-speed rail network had reached 45,000 kilometers — or just under 28,000 miles — according to information released by the country’s national railway operator, China State Railway Group Co., Ltd.
About 2,260 miles of new tracks, including 1,725 miles of high-speed tracks, went into operation in 2023 as China continues to pour investment into its national high-speed rail service. The operator said that the country invested 764.5 billion yuan (around $107.7 billion) into its rail service in 2023, a 7.5% increase from 2022.
All of that investment is good news for the planet, as trains — particularly high-speed trains that can run on electricity — are by far the most efficient and eco-friendly form of long-distance travel compared to planes and cars.
A typical car produces over 10,000 pounds of carbon pollution per year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and globally, passenger cars generate around 3.5 billion tons, per Statista.
For its part, aviation accounts for 2.5% of all carbon pollution. Domestic flights produce around six times more planet-warming pollution per passenger than driving a car with four people, according to data published by the BBC.
China’s high-speed rail network currently stands as an example to the rest of the world. The entire network has been built in less than 20 years, with Railway Technology reporting that the first high-speed track was inaugurated in 2008.
China went from having practically no rail service at the beginning of the 21st century to having 75% of its cities with populations of 500,000 (roughly the size of Kansas City) or more connected by train by 2020, per CNN. And the size of the entire network is expected to increase to about 44,000 miles by 2035.
Not only that, but the trains have received rave reviews from every internet content creator who finds themselves aboard one. Social media posts have hailed the Chinese bullet trains as fast, affordable, comfortable, and convenient.
Conversely, most people who have attempted to travel by train in the United States recently have had to deal with crumbling infrastructure, massive delays, and soaring prices. Train travel is not even an option in most of the country, as the U.S. is incredibly car-centric.
There is some room for optimism, as the recent Infrastructure Bill allocated $66 billion for investment in trains. However, that one-time allocation represents only about 60% of what China spent on its high-speed rail service in a single year, meaning that the U.S. still has a very long way to go before its citizens can enjoy the convenience and planet-friendliness of a robust high-speed rail system.
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