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World Bank
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gerald ollivier
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High-speed rail: the first three years taking the pulse of China’s emerging program

High-speed rail services have now been operating in China for three years. How are they performing? What has happened to the conventional services they parallel? What has been the impact on the airlines? Little comprehensive information has been published to date but a general picture is emerging in which high-speed rail, as in other countries, is competing strongly on short and medium-distance routes up to 1,000 km while air remains dominant over longer distances. Overall, however, diverted air passengers have not been a major source of high speed rail ridership. A larger source has been ‘generated’ trips: new trips by passengers who were induced to travel by the greater convenience of high speed service. Based on this evidence and the continuing strong growth in Chinese urban populations and incomes, we are cautiously optimistic about the long-term ridership (and hence economic viability) of the major trunk railways of the high-speed rail network in China. This optimism is tempered by the need to develop a sustainable financing mechanism in the short to medium term and to carefully weigh the costs and benefits of the peripheral extensions of the network.