Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, its transport system has undergone historic changes, making significant contributions to the country’s social and economic development, and the people’s safe and convenient travel.

From a completely underdeveloped state in 1949, years of reform and development have produced a comprehensive transport network that is constantly improving.

In 1949, the total railway length was only 21,800 km, half of which was hardly functioning. By the end of 1978, the total railway operational length had reached 52,000 km. By 2018, China had over 132,000 km of railways in operation, five times longer than 1949 and registering an average annual growth of 2.6%.

China’s Total Railway Length

  • 1949

    21,800 km

  • 1978

    52,000 km

  • 2018

    132,000 km

On Aug. 1, 2008, the Beijing-Tianjin high-speed railway, the first such line in the country, went into operation, marking the beginning of a new era in fast rail travel. By the end of 2018, the national high-speed network had reached 29,000 km, more than two-thirds of the world total.
In 1949, China’ s total highway traffic length was 81,000 km, none of which was expressway. By the end of 1978, the country had 890,000 km of highway. By the end of 2018, China’s total highway length reached 4.847 million km.

China’s Total Highway Length

  • 1949

    81,000 km

  • 1978

    890,000 km

  • 2018

    4,847,000 km

In 1988 the Shanghai-Jiading Expressway was opened to traffic, the first expressway on China’s mainland. The 18-km expressway links Shanghai’s downtown with the Jiading district in its western outskirts. By the end of 2018, China had 143,000 km of expressway, ranking first in the world and recording an average annual growth of 25.8%.

China’s Expressways

150,000 km
100,000 km
50,000 km
0 km
1949 1988 2018
18 km 143,000 km
In 1949, the navigable length of the country’s inland waterway was 74,000 km, of which 24,000 km was designated as “graded waterways.” By the end of 2018, the navigable length was 127,000 km, with graded waterways accounting for 52.3%.

China’s Inland Waterway Length

  • 1949

    74,000 km

  • 2018

    127,000 km

In 1950, scheduled civil aviation flights operated on 12 routes, with a total length of 11,000 km, reaching only seven domestic cities. By the end of 2018, there were 4,945 routes, with a total length of 8.38 million km, reaching 230 domestic cities.

Civil Aviation Flights Routes

  • 1950


  • 2018


While developing its domestic transport network, China has also enhanced its connectivity to the rest of the world. The China Railway Express to Europe is a good example.

Since the launch of the rail freight service from Chongqing via the Alashankou border crossing in Xinjiang through Central Asia to Europe in March 2011, China-Europe rail cargo transport has gained rapid traction. This has been fueled by the rollout of the Belt and Road Initiative.

By the end of 2018, China-Europe rail service had connected 108 cities in 16 countries in Asia and Europe. A total of 13,000 trains had carried more than 1.1 million TEUs.

The past seven decades have witnessed a substantial increase in the number of transport facilities, including locomotives, automobiles, aircraft and vessels.


Locomotives (1949) * 5.3 = 21,000

Civil Automobiles



230 million

Civil Automobiles (1949) * 4564.1 = 230 million

Civil Aircraft




Civil Aircraft (1985) * 15.2 = 6,134

Water Transport Vessels

Water Transport Vessels (1950) * 30.3 = 137,000

This has been achieved by rapid progress in the manufacture of transport equipment. High-performance equipment technology with proprietary intellectual property rights, represented by high-speed railways and airliners, have reached the advanced world level; some, indeed, lead the world.

The high-speed bullet train between Beijing and Shanghai-named “Fuxing” (meaning rejuvenation) started operating on Sep. 21, 2017. The train is designed to reach at a maximum speed of 400 km/h but normally runs at 350 km/h. China owns full proprietary intellectual property rights, with all parts of the train developed and manufactured in the country.

China’s homegrown large passenger plane, the C919, first rolled off the assembly line in November 2015, making China one of the few countries capable of developing large airliners independently.
An extensive network involving diverse means of transport have effectively met the needs of travel and freight transport, with the volume of passengers and freight continually expanding.

In 2018, the passenger volume by all major means of transport reached 17.9 billion persons, 131 times that of 1949. Passenger turnover was more than 3.4 trillion passenger-km (pkm), 220.8 times that of 1949.

Passenger Volume

14 Billion
10.5 Billion
7 Billion
3.5 Billion
0 Billion
  • 3.37 Billion


  • 13.67 Billion


  • 0.28 Billion


  • 0.61 Billion


Passenger Turnover | Passenger per Kilometer (pkm)

1.5 Trillion
1 Trillion
0.5 Trillion
0 Billion
  • 1.41 Trillion pkm


  • 0.93 Trillion pkm


  • 0.008 Trillion pkm


  • 1.07 Trillion pkm


In 2018, the freight volume transported was 50.6 billion tons, 271 times that of 1949. Freight turnover was more than 20.4 trillion ton-km (tkm), 793.8 times that of 1949.

Freight Volume

40 Billion
30 Billion
20 Billion
10 Billion
0 Billion
  • 4.03 Billion


  • 39.6 Billion


  • 7.03 Billion


  • 0.007 Billion


Freight Turnover | Ton per Kilometer (tkm)

11 Trillion
8 Trillion
4 Trillion
0 Trillion
  • 2.88 Trillion tkm


  • 7.12 Trillion tkm


  • 9.91 Trillion tkm


  • 0.026 Trillion tkm


Much progress has been made in China’s transport development over the past seven decades. Yet, it must also be noted that the country still faces many challenges. At a new starting point, China will continue to promote high-quality transport development to meet the increasing public demand for a better life.