Click here to preview the new Fast Company

Want to try out the new

If you’d like to return to the previous design, click the yellow button on the lower left corner.

All Aboard: China's Next Export Is A Trans-Asian High-Speed Railway

China has a grand plan to extend its high-speed rail infrastructure to its neighbors. First stop: Laos.

high speed train

For all of its grand ambitions, China has had some problems implementing high-speed rail—severe safety issues, construction fraud, and lack of ridership are just some of the issues the country has had to deal with recently. But China will not turn back from its vision of high-speed rail. And the country cares so much that it wants its neighbors to have fast trains, too. China is starting by extending tracks into northern Laos.

Laos is one of the poorest countries in Asia, and it currently only has two miles of rail lines. But the nation anticipates that a high-speed rail system built by the Chinese could increase tourism, gambling, and local construction jobs.

No word on when construction will begin on the Laos line, but this is just the beginning of China's plan for a trans-Asian railway system. Eventually, the country envisions a system that could zip riders from China to Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Part of the reasoning is economic security. As it stands, China does more trade with Western countries than with fellow Asian nations. But in the event of a maritime blockade or a disaster, a high-speed rail system could easily allow China to trade goods with its neighbors—and a link to Burma would give the country another access point to the Indian Ocean if the Straits of Malacca became tangled in an international dispute.

This is all still a long way away; China has high-speed rail struggles of its own to deal with. Just this week, the country opted to lower the top speed of the Beijing to Shanghai bullet train in part because of maintenance and safety concerns. But China's dreams of a world linked by high-speed rail are commendable. Unlike the U.S., which can't build a mile of high-speed rail without years of wrangling, China doesn't have an elected government or concerned voters getting in the way—so the trans-Asian rail link may actually become reality.

[Image: Wikipedia]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

Add New Comment


  • Bob Jacobson

    A better case can be made that failed national priorities, abetted by ideologically crazy and mistaken foreign policy, and insane rebates for the price of gasoline used driving cars on publicly financed roads, obtained by hoards of petro-lobbyists, are more to blame for lack of high-speed rail in America than "elected governments and voters."  Democracy is not well established in America, it's not as durable as industrial might.

    Nine out of ten Americans would prefer high-speed rail to wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and who knows where else, but are they asked?  Not directly.  And not frequently. 

    In fact, one could say on this issue, the one time they were asked, they voted a resounding call for "Change!" only to be thoroughly ignored by their pretend popular hero.  The petro, flight, and auto industries have a lot more clout than elected governments and voters. 

    When Peak Oil bites, the Chinese will be restructuring.  We will be crawling down the road, an empty gas can in each hand.