Transformation of China's transportation over four decades#Oriental Outlook#-Sino-US

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Transformation of China's transportation over four decades

By the end of 2017, China has 25,000 kilometers of high-speed railway in operation, the longest in the worldwide, and the high-speed train Fuxing can run at 350 kilometers per hour.

From "green trains" to high-speed bullet trains, China's transportation system has undergone remarkable changes, and lots of changes are also seen in roads, civil aviation, water transportation and subways.

In the 39th issue of 2018, the Oriental Outlook magazine under the Xinhua News Agency ran a cover story on the changes of the country’s transportation system in the past four decades.

Below is an excerpt of the article.

“If you want to be rich, you need to build roads first.” This saying has been one of the popular slogans during the past four decades of reform and opening-up, which underscores the importance of developing the transportation.

People can already see the changes in the urban transport system, such as subways and taxis, and one more obvious fact is that China has built more roads than any other countries in the past 40 years.

In 1978, China had 890,000 kilometers of roads, a density of 9.27 kilometers per 100 square kilometers. By the end of 2017, there were 4.77 million kilometers of roads, among which 136,500 kilometers are highways, the longest in the world.

At the beginning of the reform and opening-up, China had 51,700 kilometers of railways, and by the end of 2017, the mileage reached 127,000 kilometers, including 25,000 kilometers of high-speed railway, accounting for two-thirds of the world. Now, China has the most modern railway network and the most developed high-speed rail network.

In the air, China’s air routes have developed from serving the military and a small group of people to become the world’s second-largest air transport system.

In four decades, China has greatly improved the backbone transportation system, supporting the country’s opening-up and the improvement of people’s livelihood.

The main transportation mode has changed from bicycles to private cars; from the “green trains” running at tens of kilometers per hour to high-speed trains with speeds exceeding 300 kilometers per hour; from the need of introduction letters to get a plane ticket to common people buying tickets easily.

The changes have allowed people to contact the outside world more broadly and directly, promoting the changes in people’s mind.

The upgrade of the national transportation system also changed the pattern of time and space, facilitating the circulation of the production factors, optimizing the allocation of resources, and thus has a deeper impact on economic development.

These changes combined with other policies powered the development of the country in the past four decades and turned China into the fastest growing developing economy.

China has achieved great changes in the transportation system, creating a record of the world, and the system played a role of supporting and leading the economic growth and also is the best demonstrator of the achievements.

Bye, 'green trains'

“Green trains” are those painted with green color, installed with simple devices, and windows can open for air circulation. They have no air-conditioning system, and the seats are made of hard leather with upright seat backs.

“Currently, the typical green trains are mainly of three types, Type 22, Type 22B and Type 25B,” said Liu Jianqiang, who was born in 1980s and works for the railways. Type 22 was built from 1959 to 1994, and Type 25B was built between 1992 and 2010.

In October 1978, when Deng Xiaoping visited Japan, he took a Shinkansen train that had been in operation for 15 years, running at 210 kilometers per hour with a maximum speed of 270 kilometers.

At that time, China’s green trains ran at under 50 kilometers per hour, and they still propelled China’s economy. The economic development in southeastern coastal areas raised the number of railway passengers.

More and more farmers flocked to the southeastern areas in 1980s for work. In 1992, there were 46 million migrant workers, and the number rose to 60 million in 1994. After that, the figure increased by 8 million to 10 million a year.

Starting from 1997, the country raised the train speed six times, and the green trains that run at the maximum speed of 120 kilometers per hour could not meet the demands of speeding, and then orange, blue and white trains started to appear.

Different colors represented the types, hardware conditions and speed. Orange and blue represents the advanced, rapid and convenient trains at that time, and in the sixth round of speeding in 2007, China’s white CRH trains joined in.

Starting from 2013, China Railway Corporation has unified the colors of the trains to green and white, and the bullet trains are white and other trains are green.

In 2016, the bullet trains have transported 1.443 billion passengers, accounting for 52.3 percent of the total, becoming the main force of passenger transportation.

Motuo: Latest connected county

In the spring of 2013, when a national political advisor went to Beijing for the national conference, she had to walk, take a motorcycle, cars and a plane to Beijing from Motuo, a journey costing her six days.

In October that year, the Motuo Highway opened to traffic, and the journey was cut to two days. Motuo was the last Chinese county in remote southeastern Tibet to have access to highways.

Starting from 1960s, people had tried to build roads to venture beyond the mountains to connect the county with the outside world, but natural disasters such as landslides, mudslides, avalanches and floods created big challenges.

One technician said that Motuo doesn’t have four seasons, and half year is raining and half year is snowing. “The ice column on the house can reach more than 1 meter, and people have to wear helmet to walk downside.”

Until 1994, a makeshift road finally reached Motuo county, but the second day after it opened to traffic, it was destroyed by heavy rain, and in the following years, the road went through a cycle of repair and destruction.

In 2009, construction began on the Motuo Highway. Researchers spent months on field visits, utilizing GPS and remote sensing technologies for building the more than 100-kilometer highway.

In 2010, the tunnel through the Galongla Mountain was completed, which facilitated the construction of the highway that finally opened in October 2013.

The county has experienced a spike in tourism after its highway connection was established. The highway has cut living costs of locals in Motuo, bringing more economic opportunities for them.

According to Motuo tourism authority, in 2014, the country received 96,100 visitors, doubled from 2013. From January to September this year, the number of visitors has reached 150,180, bringing tourism revenue of 133 million yuan.

The Motuo highway just represented the development of the country’s roads and the function in boosting the economic growth.

China had 890,000 kilometers roads in 1978, and its first highway opened to traffic in Shanghai in 1988, but by the end of 2017, China had 4.77 million kilometers of roads, 136,500 kilometers of which are highways.

Civil aviation: From scarcity to global network

When the country started to reform and open up, China had only 78 civil airports and the civil aviation was affiliated to the air force. Now, China’s civil aviation has developed into the second-largest air transportation system in the worldwide.

Ji Xiaochun, a flight attendant from China Eastern Airlines, started to work on the plane in March 1977 when she was 16 years old, and in the past 41 years, she has witnessed the development and changes of China's civil aviation industry.

“When I first served on a flight, there were 24 passengers only and I was the one flight attendant,” Ji said. “At that time, the largest plane could take more than 80 passengers, and about two and three flight attendants.”

According to Ji, there was no kettle on the plane, and flight attendants had to take a thermos to keep hot water. The cups on the planes were reused after washing.

In 1970s, the civil aviation services were in short supply, and passengers had to take introduction letters, identity certificate, an approval from their work place and the document explaining why they needed to take the flight in order to be able to buy tickets, Ji said.

She said these documents had to be ready a week ahead of buying tickets, and further, the plane passengers were usually ranked county-level officials or above.

The civil aviation system change started in 1980. The State Council, or China’s cabinet, established the Civil Aviation Administration of China to take charge of the national civil aviation affairs.

In 1987, the civil aviation administration separated the administrative organs, airlines and airports.

Ji had experienced the development of China Eastern Airlines. In September 1979, it operated first air route to Japan. In May 1991, the airlines started first air route to the US. In 2011, it became a member of SkyTeam Airline Alliance.

“Now, flying a common way for ordinary people to travel for work and sightseeing,” Ji said.

By the end of 2017, China had 229 civil airports, and 224 cities had scheduled flights. There were 3,261 planes for the regular routes covering nearly 7 million kilometers.

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