Railways provide a vital transportation mode in China. By the end of 2000, there were 68,600 km of track in use, the third longest in the world.
China's trunk railways can be divided into two groups running south-north and east-west. There are many important hubs where lines meet such as, Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing, Harbin, Xuzhou, Xian and Wuhan. The east-west trunk railways include such lines as Beijing-Baotou, Baotou-Lanzhou, Lianyungang-Lanzhou, Lanzhou-Urumqi, Shanghai-Hangzhou, Hangzhou-Nanchang, Zhuzhou-Guiyang and Guizhou-Kunming. The south-north trunk railways mainly include the Beijing-Harbin, Beijing-Guangzhou, Beijing-Shanghai, Beijing-Kowloon, Jiaozuo-Liuzhou, Baoji-Chengdu and Chengdu-Kunming lines. These lines form the basic framework of Chinese trunk railways.
The Beijing-Guangzhou line extends from the nation's capital in the north to Guangzhou in the south, passing through Hebei, Henan, Hubei, Hunan and Guangdong provinces. It covers 2,324 km and is the main artery of communications from north to south, carrying heavy loads of goods and passengers.
The Beijing-Shanghai line is the major trunk route in eastern China, linking the cities of Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai and the four provinces of Hebei, Shandong, Anhui and Jiangsu, it has a total length of 1,462 km. There are many cities along this line and this part is the most prosperous region in China.
The Beijing-Kowloon line is another major north-south railway. It bears great importance in strengthening the connection between the nation's capital and Hong Kong.
The Longhai-Lanxin Railway has two parts. One part, called the Longhai Line, extends from Lianyungang in the east to Lanzhou in the northwest and has a length of 1,736 km; the other part, called the Lanxin Line, is about 1,904 km long, and extends from Lanzhou westward to Urumqi in Xinjiang. Now, the Lanxin Line has further extended westward to the Ala Mountain Pass. Connecting to the Kazakhstan rail system, it has become a key component in the Asia-Europe continental bridge. The Longhai-Lanxin Railway, traversing China from east to west, has an important role to play in western development and in developing a land transport route to Europe.
The 1,118-km-long Qinghai-Tibet Railway, from Xining in Qinghai Province and passing through Golmud to Lhasa in Tibet (the part from Xining to Golmud is already operational, while the remainder is under construction), will finally give Tibet its first rail link with the rest of the country.