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Back in Business: China resumes expansion of rail network [free access]

May 1, 2020

The recent outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a decline in public transport ridership in China. The majority of public transport users have shifted to private cars, taxis, and ride-hailing, or have taken to cycling and walking. However, the expansion of public transport systems continues to advance. The country plans to extend the existing operational systems by 5,549 km and 3,234 stations across 37 existing metrorail/rapid transit networks by 2025. Further, seven new systems spanning 627 km and 439 stations are also planned to be developed by 2025. Work resumed on several projects from end-February 2020 and new expansion plans were also announced.


Repercussions of the COVID-19 crisis on the economic operations of public transport systems


In 2019, the total annual ridership on urban public transport in China was more than 67 billion passengers. Of the total, more than 23 billion passengers travelled on the urban rail network. However, lockdowns due to the COVID-19 crisis have resulted in a decrease of more than 50 per cent in transport ridership, especially in February 2020. Figure 1 represents urban public transport ridership for the first quarter.


Figure 1: Urban public transport ridership in China (January–March 2020)

Source: China’s Ministry of Transport, Global Mass Transit Research


China has reported the following impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the economic operations of public transport during the first quarter (January–March 2020):



Speedy recovery in March: The passenger traffic on urban public transport was recorded to be 1.81 billion passengers, which is almost double the amount of passenger traffic in February 2020. 


In addition, the average daily traffic of passenger cars recorded an increase of 78.4 per cent in comparison to February.  The number of self-driving trips has increased, and the average daily traffic of provincial minibuses has increased by 78.4 per cent compared to February.


Further, as of April 28, 2020, construction work on 620 key transportation projects has resumed.


Modal shift: The majority of public transport users have shifted to private cars, taxis, and ride-hailing, or have taken to cycling and walking.



Future of planned urban metrorail networks                             


China is the world’s biggest rail market. In 2019, eight new metrorail/rapid transit systems were operationalised. China plans to develop more than 6,000 km and 3,600 stations across 44 metrorail/rapid transit system networks by 2025.


Table 1 provides details of the planned expansion of the 37 existing networks.


Table 1: Planned expansion of existing metro systems             


Planned length (km)

Planned no. of stations

Beijing Subway



Changchun Rail Transit



Changsha Metro



Changzhou Metro



Chengdu Metro



Chongqing Rail Transit



Dalian Metro



Dongguan Rail Transit



Foshan Metro



Fuzhou Metro



Guangzhou Metro



Guiyang Rail Transit



Hangzhou Metro



Harbin Metro



Hefei Rail Transit



Hohhot Metro



Jinan Rail Transit



Lanzhou Rail Transit



Nanchang Metro



Nanjing Metro



Nanning Rail Transit



Ningbo Rail Transit



Qingdao Rail Transit



Shanghai Metro



Shenyang Metro



Shenzhen Metro



Shijiazhuang Metro



Suzhou Rail Transit



Tianjin Metro



Urumqi Metro



Wenzhou Rail Transit



Wuhan Metro



Wuxi Metro



Xiamen Metro



Xi'an Metro



Xuzhou Metro



Zhengzhou Metro






Source: Global Mass Transit


Table 2 provides details of seven new systems, which are under construction.


Table 2: Planned new systems


Planned length (km)

Planned no. of stations

Baotou Metro



Liuzhou Rail Transit



Luoyang Metro



Nantong Metro



Shaoxing Rail Transit



Taiyuan Metro



Wuhu Rail Transit






Source: Global Mass Transit


Back to work


Chinese authorities and companies gradually started to resume work from February 2020 and by the end of April construction works on the majority of the projects had been resumed.


By the end of February 2020, construction work resumed on metrorail projects across more than 20 cities, including all key projects of Changsha Metro, Chengdu Metro, Hangzhou Metro, Qingdao Metro, Shenyang Metro, Shijiazhuang Metro, and Tianjin Metro.


By the end of March 2020, work resumed on all metrorail projects under construction in major cities, including Beijing, Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Hefei, Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Zhengzhou.


Expansion planning continues


Despite a two-month lockdown, the Chinese authorities have continued to draft and submit expansion plans for approval as well as plans to complete the on-going projects with the least and/or no delay. In April 2020, the following urban rail expansion plans were announced by the authorities:



Recent tenders                                                                 


Several tenders for the construction and supply of rolling stock and railway systems have been launched in the last three months. Table 3 provides details of the key tenders launched in the last three months.


Table 3: Recent key tenders



Type of contract

Scope of work

Last date for submission of bids

Hangzhou Metro Line 3 Phase I

Hangzhou Metro Group Company

Rolling stock

Supply 78 six-car trains

April 24, 2020

Shenyang Metro Line 3 Phase I

Shenyang Metro Group Company


Construct a section

June 3, 2020

Ningbo Rail Transit Line 5

Ningbo Rail Transit Group Company

Rolling stock

Supply 26 trains

May 28, 2020

Nantong Metro Line 1

Nantong Urban Rail Transit Company

Fare system

Supply an automatic fare collection (AFC) system

April 17, 2020

Suzhou Rail Transit Line S1

Suzhou Mass Transit Line Limited

Communication system

Supply communication system and provide integration services

April 27, 2020

 Source: Global Mass Transit


Recent developments


Since the beginning of 2020, despite being the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, China has  been able to report significant developments in the rail sector. New services began on metro and tram lines in Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Hefei, Hohhot, Jinan, Songjiang, Shijiazhuang, Suzhou, and Tianjin. HSR services began on the inter-provincial circular line in China. 


Construction began on many new projects in March and April 2020. These include projects in Changchun, Zhengzhou, Nanjing, Tianjin, and Shaoxing.


Table 4 describes rail developments in the last four months.


Table 4: Recent developments

Date of development



Passenger services

April 2020

Hangzhou Metro

Line 16 and a section of Line 5 opened. 

Chengdu, Chongqing, and Guiyang HSR

Services commenced on the first inter-provincial circular HSR line in China. The line spans 1,290 km. The end-to-end journey time is eight hours.

January 2020

Shijiazhuang Metro

Line 3 Phase 1 North Section opened. It spans 5.4 km and covers four stations.

Chengdu Metro, Chongqing Metro, Guangzhou Metro, Hefei Metro, Hohhot Metro, Jinan Metro, Suzhou Metro, and Tianjin Metro

Services commenced on nine metro lines, which collectively span around 230 km and cover over 160 stations.


January 2020

Songjiang Tram


The 3.88-km Phase 3 opened, marking the completion of the 31-km line.

Chengdu Tram

Tram Rong Line 2 opened.

Foshan Tram

Gaomong Tram opened.

Trial runs

April 2020

Shanghe–Hangzhou HSR

Trials on the Hefei–Huzhou section commenced. Passenger services are expected to commence by June 2020.

Shenzhen Metro

Trials of Lines 6 and 10 commenced. Passenger services on both the lines are expected to commence in August 2020.

March 2020

Huangpu Tram

Trials of Line 1 commenced. The tram line is expected to be fully operational by end-2020.


April 2020

Tianjin City Rail Transit Line

Tianjin Planning and Natural Resources Bureau unveiled plans for the development of Line Z2 Phase I.

March 2020

Nanning Suburban Rail Project

The Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region Development and Reform Commission approved the proposal to develop a suburban rail line connecting the Nanning Wusong International Airport and the Nanning International Airport Comprehensive Transportation Hub. The line will span 23 km and cover five stations.

February 2020

Xuzhou Urban Rail

NDRC approved the Xuzhou Urban Rail Transit Plan (2019–2024). This plan involves the development of three new lines and the extension of one line, which will collectively span 79.3 km, by 2024. These lines will be developed at an estimated investment of CNY53.59 billion.


April 2020

Changchun Metro

Construction work began on Line 7, which will span 23.16 km and cover 19 stations (all underground).

March 2020

Zhengzhou Metro

The Zhengzhou Metro Group Company Limited commenced the construction of Line 6 Phase 1, Line 8 Phase 1, and Line 12 Phase 1. These lines are a part of the Zhengzhou Urban Rail Transit Phase III Plan (2019–2024).

Nanjing Metro

China Railway Construction commenced the construction of Line 9 Phase 1 under a contract secured in early-2020. Construction is expected to be completed within 44 months.

Tianjin Metro

China Railway Shanghai Engineering Bureau commenced the construction of Line 4 Northern Section on a public private partnership (PPP) basis.

Shaoxing Rail Transit

Construction of Line 2 Phase I commenced.

Track laying 

April 2020

Nantong Rail Transit

Track-laying works commenced on Line 1 Phase 1.

Hangfu Intercity Railway

Track-laying works commenced.

Xi’an Metro

China Railway Construction completed the track-laying works of Line 5 Phase 1.

March 2020

Wuxi Metro

Track-laying works of Line 4 commenced.

Rolling stock

April 2020

Hefei Rail Transit

CRRC delivered the first train to be deployed on Line 4. A fleet of 47 six-car trains is planned to be deployed on the line. Of these 47 trains, 24 trains are planned to be delivered by end-2020.

March 2020

Chengdu Metro

CRRC Sifang completed the delivery of 26 eight-car trains to be deployed on Line 18.

January 2020

Not applicable

Bombardier Sifang (Qingdao) Transportation Limited (BST), a joint venture (JV) of Bombardier Transportation and CRRC Sifang Rolling Stock Company Limited, secured a contract from China State Railway Group Company Limited (China Railway) to maintain 71 HSR trains (656 high-speed railcars) till end-2020. The estimated value of the contract is USD357 million (CNY2.45 billion).


Not applicable

Bombardier Sifang (Qingdao) Transportation Limited (BST) secured a USD427 million (CNY2.97 billion) contract from China State Railway Group Company Limited to supply 160 HSR cars. These railcars will be configured into 10 16-car HSR trains.

Fare system

April 2020

Across China

Apple updated the Apple Pay virtual transportation card in China by adding the features of the Shenzhen Connect Interconnection Card and the Beijing–Tianjin–Hebei Interconnection Card. Passengers can pay using Apple watches and phones in over 275 cities in China now.

New technologies

April 2020

Shanghai autonomous trams

The Shanghai Fuxin Intelligent Transportation Solutions Company Limited (FITSCO) partnered with Cognitive Pilot to develop an artificial intelligence (AI)-based control system to be deployed on autonomous trams in Shanghai. The companies will collaborate on the research and development (R&D), testing, and commercialisation stages. The system is expected to be deployed by 2022.

Source: Global Mass Transit


Rail investments under BRI


China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), being implemented across the world, involves an estimated investment of USD1.2–1.3 trillion. So far, China has invested around USD15 billion in transportation projects. Despite facing an economic contraction after many decades, China is continuing the development of rail projects under the BRI.



Warning against Chinese companies


In April 2020, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) warned governments to guard against a potential buying spree of, and investment in, critical infrastructure projects by Chinese companies.


The EU and its member states, including Germany, France, Italy, and Spain, have tightened foreign investment rules. In April 2020, the Government of Italy placed many sectors (transport, the financial sector, data storage, etc.) under the ambit of the ‘Golden Powers Law’, a law meant to restrict foreign investment in sensitive areas. The Government of Spain amended a 2003 law through royal decree making it mandatory to obtain prior government authorisation for any FDI proposal. Similarly, the Government of Germany agreed to tighten rules to protect domestic firms from unwanted takeovers by investors from non-EU countries.


In addition, Australia, India, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the Unites States have also tightened their foreign investment rules.


The way forward


China has resumed its heavy investment in public transport, but the epidemic has caused some major disruptions in the modal split. The bike-sharing market has grown by more than 100 per cent and ride-hailing has also gained a significant market share.


Nevertheless, the authorities aim to restore the faith of commuters in public transport. The authorities are using the pandemic as an opportunity to try out new technologies and accelerate their deployment. In Suzhou, a smart transit platform has been deployed to analyse the crowd distribution in real time and to identify the volume of passengers in each vehicle through the use of smart transit cards.  The transport authorities have also introduced on-demand shuttle bus lines in addition to fixed-route services, and are encouraging commuters to make fare payment using traceable payment methods like WeChat, Alipay, and transit smart cards.  


The Government of China, for the next few months, will most probably make its BRI investments very strategically due to limitation of funds and with a focus on strengthening the nation’s economy.