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China: New and Old

Feb 14th, 2019 | Ben Churcher

Truly, you have to see modern China to believe it. The scale of the change across this large nation literally takes your breath away. A few years ago I caught the high speed train from Shanghai to Beijing. As I sat there in whisper quiet comfort, I mused on the never-ending debate on high speed rail in Australia and all the arguments about the economies of scale. As I thought, we passed the maintenance area for the high speed trains outside Shanghai. Now, you can expect a place to have one or two trains, or even a handful to handle the needs of timetabling, but in this yard there must have been fifty sleek, high-speed trains with all their carriages waiting for their orders. This wonderment at the scale of China is the same everywhere: everything you’ve ever imagined, but more. While still thinking about trains, you can catch a high speed train from Beijing to Urumqi in western Xinjiang province. It covers a distance of some 3,000 km and takes around 30 hours (you can book a ‘standing’ ticket should you wish!). This is impressive enough, but for most of this route the train is on an elevated viaduct supported by massive concrete pillars. It is awe-inspiring to see this structure snake its way across the lower Gobi Desert with modernity elevated above the denizens of the desert scratching out a living below. Whether it is wind farms that stretch for so long that you get bored looking at the turbines as you whizz past in a bus at 100 km/hr, or freeways that plunge into great tunnels in mountainsides, or bright, shiny new cities where before there was nothing; the immensity of China is staggering; particularly for we low-density Australians....

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