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A foreigner's experience on China's high-speed rail

By Chasen Richter Senior student at Boston College (China Daily USA)

Updated: 2015-09-23 15:24:55


A foreigner's experience on China's high-speed rail

Chasen Richter in Xiamen. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

"Excuse me. May I take a photo?" a man asked me in Guangzhou. As a 6'2", blond American, I got that a lot during my 10-day trip in August to study China's high-speed rail system (HSR). I started in Hong Kong and ended in Beijing, covering more than 2,400 miles over 30 hours on the train.

So what did I learn?

First, China's HSR is incredibly sophisticated in terms of its engineering and efficiency. As a frequent traveler on America's Amtrak system, I can say that China's HSR is light-years ahead. My longest delay was two minutes.

Second, people were kind and went out of their way to help me. The woman sitting next to me on the train to Jinjiang, for example, ended up driving me to the Anta factor in Jinjiang when I realized it was far from the station. And when I accidentally took a train to Fuzhou in Jiangxi province rather than to Fuzhou in Fujian province (a classic Western mistake, I'm told), the train personnel helped me sort it out and assisted in getting me to the right place.

Of course it helped that I am conversant in Mandarin. Outside of Shanghai, little English is spoken so I wouldn't advise travelling alone without some language skills.

Third, the scale of China is mind-boggling. When I stumbled upon Fuzhou (Jiangxi), I came across a greater city area larger than Chicago, America's third-largest city, yet by Chinese standards, it's a third-tier city in terms of population.

Finally, I observed first-hand that the speed and convenience of the HSR is altering consumption and business patterns for Chinese living outside the bigger cities. Passengers carried bags of toys, clothing and infant formula procured now by a short train ride to Xiamen or Fuzhou rather than a four-hour drive just a few years ago. In business, people can now get to Xiamen, a rising investment center, for meetings in just 18 minutes on the train versus an hour and a half in the car. And it's now just 45-minutes from Hangzhou to Shanghai (previously, it took four hours), greatly increasing connectivity and investment between the two cities.

As China's economy shifts to media and technology enterprises, its network of safe, reliable high-speed trains is a boon for its people and for foreigners wanting to travel the country.