The Newsletter 70 Spring 2015

A bullet train or a paved road? Local accounts of high-speed rail reform in China

Tabitha Speelman

The first Chinese high-speed rail (HSR) connection opened in 2007, but by the end of 2013 the country had over 12,000 km of high-speed tracks (the biggest network in the world and about half of all HSR tracks in operation worldwide). Service levels among China’s high-speed trains1 are high; passengers play games on their phones and consume luxury foodstuff s sold on board, as they near their destination at 300 km/h. The perfectly air-conditioned, mostly quiet HSR environment stands in stark contrast to the bustling carriages of regular Chinese trains, in which passengers chat over card games and share life stories, eating instant noodles and sunflower seeds (not for sale on HSR). Infl uencing traveling cultures is only one of many ways in which the construction of the world’s most advanced highspeed railroad (HSR) network is changing China, a country in which access to travel is closely tied to socio-economic development. So far, scholarly attention has been limited, but whether it is the economic impact of HSR on remote regions, emerging forms of tourism, or the nostalgia surrounding the disappearing slow trains, the approach of the HSR era in China brings with it many topics worthy of further research.