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High Speed Railway Lines in China

China has built a high-speed passenger rail network and is continuing to expand it rapidly. The trains are similar to French TGV, German ICE, or Japanese Shinkansen. Over 25,000 km are already in service as of 2018, making China's system the world's largest high-speed network.
high speed rail line in China
These are easily the best way of getting around China where available. The trains are clean, comfortable and modern. Seating is comparable to that in an airplane or even better. Most tickets are for assigned seats; no-seat tickets are sometimes sold in limited numbers but, unlike regular Chinese trains, there is never a mad crush with more people sitting in the aisles than in seats. Also unlike other trains, no smoking is allowed, not even between carriages. Prices are reasonable by Western standards and, on most routes, departures are frequent.
 
Although China has a well-developed and advanced airport infrastructure, the country suffers from notorious flight delays whereas the high-speed rail network is very punctual. Although the flight from Beijing to Shanghai (for example) is shorter than the train ride, once you take travel time to and from the airport and the likelihood of long delays into account the rail connection is far more appealing.
 high speed rail line construction
The fast trains are called CRH, China Railway High-speed. At some train stations there is a separate CRH ticket office or even vending machines; at others, CRH tickets are sold at separate counters in the main ticket office. In either case, look for the “CRH” signs or logo.
 
The speeds attained vary considerably from line to line. The technology used also varies. Nearly all the rolling stock is now manufactured in China, but much of the technology has come from abroad. The Canadian company Bombardier, Japanese Kawasaki, German Siemens (manufacturer of the ICE) and French Alstom (manufacturer of the TGV) have been involved. Some new lines have adopted individual interior color schemes and decor to highlight the region they operate in, however most trains follow a standard palette.

Types of Trains and Services

The letter prefixes on train numbers indicate the type of train. From fastest to slowest, the fast trains are:
  • G: often latest generation CRH, all with top speeds of 300 km/h (around 200 mph), long distance trains serving fewer stations, mostly major cities
  • D: often earlier generation CRH, with top speeds of 250 km/h (155 mph), long distance trains serving more stations & intermediate cities
  • C: intercity high-speed rail, only found on a few lines, all over short distances. Top speed normally up to 200 km/h, with some exceptions 300 km/h.
passengers are waiting for high speed rail
While many lines are built for speeds up to 350 km/h, most trains run at more than 300 km/h for safety and cost reasons. Lines built to a 250 km/h standard will run at 200 km/h. Since September 2017, trains running between Beijing and Shanghai have operated at up to 350 km/h, and more lines have been gradually restored to their original design speed.
 
There are also some G trains whose routes include lines built to different standards. In this case, they run at a speed of 300 km/h on lines of a higher standard, and 250 km/h or 200 km/h on lines of a lower standard. The ticket price is also at different rates in each part of the route according to the speed. For example, the route of G trains from Beijing to Taiyuan include the first part form Beijing to Shijiazhuang, and the second part from Shijiazhuang to Taiyuan. The first part is part of Beijing-Hong Kong High-Speed Railway, and the train runs at a speed of 300 km/h. However the second part of Shijiazhuang-Taiyuan High-Speed Railway is built only to a 250 km/h standard, so the train runs at a lower speed and the price per kilometer is lower than the first part. And if you take this train only for the second part (for example, getting on at Shijiazhuang and getting off at Taiyuan), there will be no difference form a D train in either speed or price.
 
The slower conventional speed trains are:
  • Z: express trains, conventional speed with fewer stops
  • T: intermediate-speed non-CRH trains. Some of these get up to 160 km/h (100 mph)
  • K: slower, cheaper and more crowded trains; K3***, K4*** and K5*** are special additional services added during periods of great demand such as Spring Festival
Number only: Slowest local services serving the smallest of stations
Faster services usually means higher prices. Number only trains have the lowest price. Some number only trains and a very small number of K trains are not equipped with air conditioners, and their prices are notably lower.

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