Rail Growth in China

I know it’s only up to 2020, but I’m pretty sure rail is far more useful in China than here in the US.

Does it hold us back? Or does our road infrastructure work as an alternative?
Roads are more flexible in destination and cheaper to build, but rail can be higher capacity - speed, heavier goods, people…


I don’t think it does. The U.S. has a ton of rail. We just use it primarily for freight, and not people. It’s very useful. Since rail is very good for moving heavy things slowly, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.



Thanks for the posting. No question that China industrialization has included major investment in infrastructure. Not only rail but also high speed rail, highways, and seaports.

Low cost producer is not only low labor costs but also efficient infrastructure. Not to mention extensive vertical integration. Their planning system serves them well.


China has a very long history of building infrastructure, starting with the very first emperor who built the Grand Canal, completed in the early 5th century BC.

Infrastructure in China has always been a government project which doesn’t necessarily need to be profitable. In contrast, road building in the U.S. is government financed but most railroads have always been privately financed from the start.

If a railroad route isn’t profitable it will continue to operate in China but will not in the U.S. The Amtrak system is government supported but only the northeast Metroliner between Boston and Washington, DC is profitable. That’s why U.S. railroads are almost entirely freight and not passenger.

The U.S. moves a lot of freight over our interstate highway system by truck. This is a free market system that must be profitable to continue.



US freight railroads are profitable. Mostly by long distance shipments. Many parallel routes from the very competitive era have been shut down.

Rail congestion in places like Chicago remains a problem. Railroads built in the 19th century always went downtown to serve the river or seaport. For hazardous materials not a good idea. Redoing will be costly.

Before automobiles/trucks (and roads) provided more flexibility the US had a relatively dense railroad system. Here, for example, is a 1910 map of Iowa and Illinois showing the railroads:


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Not per Google:

The United States has nearly 140,000 miles of privately owned railroad track in every state except Hawaii.

As of 2024, China has 98,798 miles (159,000 kilometers) of railways, the second longest network in the world.

We have nearly 50% more rail with roughly the same land mass.