Rail service in China dates back to 1876. Beginning with modern China in 1949 a national system was formed out of a collection of disjointed foreign and special-purpose lines to form main lines that could be linked into a national system. China Railways (CR) continues to create new lines to accommodate rapid growth in transport demand. CR has overtaken India as Asia’s largest system and is second only to the Russian system in size for a system under central management.
CR had concentrated on freight, primarily coal, which accounts for over 40 percent of the tonnage, for many years. Demand for freight service still outstrips capacity by a large margin. In the 1990s the demand for passenger service grew considerably
Chinese railroad engineers overcame significant geographic obstacles to extend train travel to most parts of the country. This train in Gansu Province is on level land, but in many places railroad tracks cut over hills, through mountains, and across deep rivers.
The Ministry of Railways controls 14 railway administrations, as well as 34 locomotive and rolling-stock factories through the China National Railway Locomotive and Rolling Stock Industry Corporation. It also controls 17 Railway Civil Engineering construction companies, 4 major rail research organizations, and a large research academy.
Plans for a high-speed passenger line from Beijing to Shanghai are in detailed design phases. The construction of a second main line from Beijing to Guangzhou, primarily for freight traffic, was completed in 1997, relieving congestion on this primary north-south route.