The Iron Rooster and The White Dragon


Chi­na has one of the world’s biggest rail net­works. With 20% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion that is hard­ly sur­pris­ing, and it still comes nowhere near meet­ing demand on exist­ing net­works, or on actu­al net­work cov­er­age in dense­ly pop­u­lat­ed provinces like Henan with its 100 mil­lion + peo­ple. It is a mind-bend­ing logis­tics oper­a­tion, great­ly improved since I last knew it (1998–2000) when you couldn’t even buy a return tick­et. At that time the rail sys­tem, like Chi­na itself, was an assem­bly of feif­doms, each jeal­ous­ly guard­ing its influ­ence and finances. Things have mel­lowed a bit, though around 20 peo­ple a day are killed some­where on the net­work (bet­ter than 600 or so deaths a day on the roads, accord­ing to the OECD). From time to time even a main trunk line may be vir­tu­al­ly closed for hours at a time as some “leader” flash­es through under max­i­mum secu­ri­ty in his spe­cial train. At its worst, as in the Chi­nese New Year, you can have impos­si­ble crowds fight­ing for non-exis­tent seats. 100,000 were camped out around Guangzhou sta­tion this year. At its best, on the main line bul­let trains (D-trains) there is air con­di­tioned com­fort with air­line type uni­formed host­esses.

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