Learning from the Chinese High-Speed Rail Network

Through the lens of Jing-Jin-Ji Megalopolis

Weijia Wu (MAUD '18)

Presented at the International Symposium "Communication, City and Public Space"
Organized by the Faculty of Communication of the University of Lima and the World Network of UNESCO Chairs in Communication – ORBICOM. May 8 - May 10, 2018.

China-HSR-Update-16-Dec-2012.jpg

The Transport Politic, https://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2009/01/12/high-speed-rail-in-china/

“Speed replaces distance”. Currently in China, High-Speed Rail is not only a new mode of transport that links cities and regions together but it is also catalyzing a new scope of urbanization and economic development. The Chinese High-Speed Rail system is unique given China’s huge land mass. Despite the vast distances between its North and South, East and West, the High-Speed Rail network covers almost the entire country. There are three major HSR systems in China: regional HSR connecting major metropoles, intercity HSR connecting regions within megalopolis’, and the future potential of HSR connecting Chinese to other countries across the border in line with its “One Belt One Road Initiative”. Jean Gottmann raised the idea of the “Megalopolis” as early as 1957 and since then, mega-regions have become a crucial identity in measuring the level of social and economic development of a country or region. According to the current definition, there are 10 such megacity clusters undergoing planning in China. Among them, the largest three accomplished ones are the Yangtze River Delta, the Pearl River Delta, and the Jing-Jin-Ji megaregion which are connected by this regional High-Speed rail system. The development plan of the Jing-Jin-Ji Megaregion was expected first, largely because of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and was officially announced through Chinese Central Economic Work Conference in late 2014. The Jing-Jin-Ji megalopolis consists of a metropolitan area 6 times the size of New York’s and is going to be an experiment as a prototype of modern urban growth for China and possibly for the whole world. Its strategy was first conceived of and implemented through transportation and infrastructure networks. It is expected that by 2020, 9 projects and 1100 kilometer of new track will be laid, and that it will become a “one-hour commuting circle” in the area, interlinking multiple cities infrastructural-ly, economically, and politically. Three influential aspects are directly affecting Chinese cities by the HSR. First, it is improving the densification of population along the HSR lines. For Yangtze River Delta, there is an average population growth rate of 0.51% and a growth rate of 0.79% in the HSR cities. For cities at Wu-Guang Line, the average population growth rate is 0.60%, and is 0.96% for HSR cities. Secondly, it is improving the polarization of regional hub cities. These mega-cities have been overgrowing in population that spills out to contiguous cities, gradually releasing the pressure of its high density and increased industry. As such, due to its lower transportation cost and time, the HSR has expanded the influence of these cities, helping to improve the development of its surrounding regions. Therefore, capital cities can hold a higher concentration of population. Nanjing and Hangzhou, capital cities in Yangtze River Delta, have a relatively high growth rate, 0.74% and 9.53%. As the cities are already populated with relatively high attractions, thanks to the optimization of people and resource flow, it is easier for these capital cities to expand their radiation scope. These push and pull factors will bring out dynamic changes in Chinese cities within a few years. Lastly, it is important to note that the effects are not necessarily beneficial to the small cities along the HSR. Only cities along the HSR line and close to the major cities have higher growth rate. The development of Jing-Jin-Ji megaregion aims to decentralize Beijing. Intercity HSR lines help to disperse its non-capital functions more directly, and to create half-hour and one-hour economic zone. With the opening of some new Intercity HSR lines such as Jing-Zhang Line (Beijing to Zhangjiakou), Jing-Cheng Line (Beijing to Chengde) and Jing-Jiu Line (Beijing to Kowloon), Beijing could also expand its economic and political influence and disperse its population and functions to Zhangjiakou, a one-hour city to the west; Chengde, a one-hour city to the north-east; and Hengshui, a one-hour city to the south. In effect, the possibility of connecting to all four-axis directions from Beijing will help enable the establishment and realization of Jing-Jin-Ji Megalopolis.

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