A very informative article about China and its train system, from New Geography.
There is no better way to see China than by train. This is especially true because foreigners are not allowed to drive rental cars without first obtaining a Chinese drivers license. China has developed the world’s largest high-speed rail system, which includes one of only three profitable routes in the world, along with Tokyo to Osaka and Paris to Lyon.
Travel by train in China is now more convenient for people who do not speak Mandarin. Tickets may now be purchased over the internet. Details of the trains and ticketing are provided at the end of the article.
Last month I traveled from Shanghai (Image 1 from a previous trip) to Changchun and Jilin, in Manchuria’s Jilin Province (Manchuria includes the northeastern provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heliongjiang, and is called the “Dong Bei” or the “east north”) and then to Beijing and on to Nanchang, in Jiangxi Province, finally returning to Shanghai.
Shanghai is China’s largest urban area, with 22.7 million residents (Note). I started out from Shanghai’s Hongqiao Railway Station, which is one of the most important rail hubs in the country. It is located across the runways from Hongqiao International Airport, from which most domestic flights operate. Most international flights operate from Pudong International Airport, which is 34 miles (55 kilometers) to the east.
The train used the main Shanghai to Beijing line as far as Tianjin, where the train continues along Bohai Bay toward Manchuria, while the main line turns left toward Beijing.
It is not long before the train reaches speeds above 300 kilometers per hour (186 miles per hour). For at least the first 135 miles (220 kilometers), to the far edge of Changzhou, there is a mix of primarily urban development with some rural development. There are also many high-rise residential developments and “peri-urban” developments, with rural areas transitioning to urbanization.
The train travels west through Kunshan, an urban area of 1.9 million residents, part of Suzhou municipality, which also contains the Suzhou urban area (5.4 million). There are particularly good views of the Grand Canal in Suzhou (Image 2, from a previous visit). The Grand Canal was completed approximately 1,400 years ago and for centuries has provided a means for water transport between Hangzhou, to the south of Shanghai, across the Yangtze River and to Tianjin, near Beijing. It is the longest canal in the world, at 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers).
From Suzhou, the train continues into Wuxi, an urban area of 3.7 million population (Images 3 and 4). The route continues into Changzhou (urban area population 3.7 million). Finally, is some open country, as the main route travels through a valley to the south of Zhenjiang to Nanjing, an urban area of 6.4 million population, which serves as the capital of Jiangsu. Nanjing was the former capital of China and its streets are lined and cooled in the summer by its “French trees” (Image 5, from a previous visit).