Transport systems are weak links in China’s infrastructure. As the largest country in Asia ranked by COUNTRYAAH, the country’s extremely rapid growth has put them under a very hard pressure and they have not yet been able to expand them fast enough. The usual is delays with freight and queues in ports and on roads. Despite this, both freight and passenger traffic have increased by 12-15% per year.
Heavy, long-distance freight transport inland takes place on rivers and canals, but it is the railways that play the most strategic role in the transport system. They are responsible for long-distance transport of coal, oil, ore, fertilizers and, not least, grain from surplus areas in one part of the country to deficit areas in other parts. Only 11% of freight transport went in trucks in 2007. This mainly involved short transports between cities and surrounding countryside and between nearby towns.
In 2007, 53% of passenger traffic occurred on the roads, while the railways accounted for 33% and aviation for most of the remainder.
The rail network links all provincial capitals to Beijing; the latest link, to Lhasa in Tibet, was put into operation in 2006. In the tenth five-year plan, 2001-05, transport investments were prioritized with new lines as well as extensive improvements to the existing network, expansion of double tracks and tracks for high-speed trains and computerization of freight handling. Gradually, coal-fired trains are replaced by electric ones, and in 2007, one-third of the railway network was electrified. The most important transport route is the double-lane Beijing-Guangzhou route, while the world’s most notable is the connection between Shanghai city center and the city’s international airport. It was opened in 2004 for magnetic loom trains, (“maglev trains”) at a normal speed of 430 km / h. There are metros in the seven largest cities.
In practice, private car only became possible in the 1990’s and the number of passenger cars in 1995 was only 3.5 million. But in the expanding economy, the number of trucks, vans and motorcycles increased very quickly, and together with the huge amount of cyclists, 35-40 million bicycles were produced annually, this already created traffic problems. Since then, the number of motor vehicles has increased many times more than the capacity of the road network, and in 2009 there are likely to be more than 45 million four-wheel motor vehicles in China. The highway network covered just over 45,000 km in 2006 and was already second only to the longest in the world. The most important thing now is to link rural areas and cities with good motorways and to link these to the network of national roads. It is one of the most important priorities in the Eleventh Five-Year Plan, 2006-10, especially with regard to central China.
In 2009, investment in roads and railways in China became even more significant as the global economic crisis halted Chinese investment abroad and employment in export companies declined. As areas on China’s east coast have been opened to international trade and foreign investment, the need for large, modern ports with efficient freight handling has increased. China now has 14 ports open to international, ocean-going traffic. By far the largest, measured in terms of tonnage handled, is Tianjin and then follows Shanghai, Ningbo and Dalian. Hong Kong has one of the world’s largest container ports and Shanghai’s port is being further expanded for increased container handling. The volume of handled goods in China’s ports tripled during the period 2000-07. It reflects the exceptionally rapid growth in foreign trade, then about 90% of it goes on ships. Inland waterways are of great importance for raw material transport, especially in the southern half of the country. The most important waterways are Chang Jiang, followed by rivers and canals in the Zhu Jiang (Pearl River) delta in the south and Heilongjiang in the commodity-rich northeastern China.
Aviation is growing faster than any other type of transport, and already in 2007 China had the second largest air transport volume in the world. The country has about 140 civilian airports, with the largest and most modern in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Most of the international air services are handled by Air China, where the state has 51% of the ownership, while a couple of large regional airlines handle a large part of domestic flights. The first private airline began operations in 2005, and in 2009 there are about ten such companies in China.
The strong economic growth from the 1960’s put considerable pressure on the transport facilities, and in particular roads and ports were expanded on a large scale. But since the 1980’s, congestion and environmental problems have increased, mainly related to freight traffic.
Western Taiwan has a very dense road network with, among other things, two north-south freeways connecting the major cities on the coastal plain. From there, four main roads over the mountains lead to the east coast. The bus connections are well developed all over the island.
The rail network is of high quality for passenger traffic and the number of passengers is increasing every year. The network includes both north-south links along the coasts and cross-links, and since 2007 there have been high-speed trains between Taibei and Gaoxiong. These two cities also have metro.
The largest ports are in Gaoxiong, Jilong, Hualian and Taidong. The amount of handled goods in the ports increased sharply during the 00’s. Gaoxiong has one of the world’s largest container ports. The first direct ship link across the Formosa Strait to mainland China (China) was inaugurated in 2003.
International airports are located west of Taibei (Taiwan Taoyuan, formerly Chiang Kai-shek International Airport) and Gaoxiong, as well as 16 airports with mainly domestic traffic. However, the importance of domestic aviation has decreased significantly in recent years. The two major airlines are China Airlines and EVA Airways. After 60 years, regular flights between Taiwan and China were resumed in 2008.
During the 1990’s, extensive expansion and improvement of the South Korean road network took place and freeways now connect all the major cities. Roads are important for freight transport and account for 77 per cent of the transport work. The railways take care of 6 percent and domestic shipping and aviation transport the rest.
In 2003, the first road link was opened across the border with North Korea. Roads are also most important in passenger traffic, but their share of travel has declined since 1991. This is mainly due to the extension and coordination of subways and other commuter rail networks and the opening of long-distance high-speed connections. Subways are located in the six largest cities, and in 2005 they accounted for 17 percent of all passenger traffic. More lines are being built. In 2007, trains were run across the border to North Korea. For export-oriented South Korea, shipping and ports are of great importance. In 2008, the country had the seventh largest merchant fleet in the world with close to 3.3 percent of the world’s tonnage. Busan on the Korean Strait has the world’s fifth largest container port. Other important ports are in Incheon off Seoul and Masan as well as in Yeosu on the south coast, the largest oil port. South Korea has eight international airports. The largest is Incheon, just over 50 km from Seoul. Airlines Korean Air and Asiana Airlines operate a variety of domestic and international airlines.
Already in the 1970’s, the poor transport network was a serious obstacle to increased production. Subsequently, investments have mainly gone to the modernization and expansion of facilities for freight transport, ie. to railways and ports. In 2007, trains were run on the restored and partially built railway from the Chinese border along the west coast to the border with South Korea. Similar projects along the east coast began in 2002. However, around 2010, the quality of North Korea’s transport network corresponds to that found in South Korea in the 1970’s.
The railways account for about 90 percent of freight transport and 65 percent of passenger traffic. However, this is under-dimensioned and travel is extremely time-consuming. About 75 percent of the rail lines are electrified, but only 5 percent of the lines have double tracks. Subway is located in Pyongyang. All rail traffic is greatly hampered by energy shortages and outdated equipment. Private motorism is almost completely lacking and truck traffic is of particular importance for local transport to the railways and in remote areas where public transport is lacking. Multi-lane motorways exist in the metropolitan area since the 1970’s and also across the peninsula to Wonsan. The main ports are Chongjin in the northeast, Hungnam and Wonsan on the east coast, Haeju in the southwest and Nampo, which can be seen as Pyongyang’s port. Internal flight connections are very limited. The main routes are the traffic from the capital to the major industrial cities in the east and northeast. International flight connections are also underdeveloped. Regular connections are available to neighboring countries as well as to Berlin and Sofia.
Further upgrading and expansion of the transport facilities is now largely dependent on whether foreign investments can be obtained, especially from China, the Russian Federation and South Korea.
Until 1990, transport routes were maintained for strategic reasons with massive support from the Soviet Union. Now there is no money for a necessary extension and for maintenance of roads and bridges. It is one of the biggest barriers to development and economic growth in this very large and extremely sparsely populated country. 97.5 percent of passenger journeys and about 40 percent of freight transport take place in motor vehicles on the roads, and in 2007 there were 100,000 passenger cars, 39,000 trucks and jeeps and 13,000 buses in traffic. Only a few percent of the road network is paved and as many are dirt roads or improved dirt roads. A large part of the road network cannot be used during winter snowstorms and spring melting. Horses, oxen and camels still account for much of the rural transport, in remote areas often through roadless land.
The most important railway runs from the Trans-Siberian railway in the Russian Federation via Ulaanbaatar and throughout Mongolia to Beijing in China. It has bibanes to the main mining fields. In northeastern Mongolia there is also a railway from the Russian Federation to Choibalsan. The railways account for 40 percent of the freight transport in Mongolia. Bus traffic is mainly found in the larger urban areas. Part of Mongolia’s heavy, long-distance exports goes through the port of Tianjin in northern China, and an ongoing road project involves a modern road from Ulaanbaatar to the Chinese border. Domestic flight plays an insignificant role for both passenger and freight transport. The state-owned airline MIAT Mongolian Airlines, based at Djingi’s Khan International Airport at Ulaanbaatar, operates international flights and virtually all regular domestic flights.
In its transport policy, Japan has given priority to developing fast connections between major cities, primarily the Shinkansen express train system and express motorways. Over the past three decades, car ownership has risen sharply, and car density in Japan is now among the highest in the world with 110 motor vehicles per 100 households. At the same time, there has been a very extensive closure of public connections in the countryside.
Japan’s road network in 2006 covered just over 1.2 million km, of which about 8 900 km is highway. Outside the metropolitan regions, the road network is relatively poorly developed. However, during the 1990’s, freeways were built to link cities on the Pacific coast with resorts on the Japanese Sea to revitalize business in that part of the country. Most of the freight transport takes place by truck and together with the growing use of passenger cars this causes serious problems in the big cities. Ring roads have been built to reduce congestion and air pollution in the central parts.
The railways now account for only a small part of the freight transport. However, they are of great importance for passenger traffic in the densely populated areas. Japan ranks first in the world in terms of number of rail passengers per year. In 2015, the country had close to 28,000 km of railways, all electrified.
The former state railways were reorganized in 1987 into about ten profitable companies. They form the Japan Railways Group (JR) which operates almost all intercity and commuter train services. A large number of other private railway companies have very limited operations. At the heart of JR is the Shinkansen, the high-speed rail system that started operating in 1965 and now connects Tokyo with the major cities on Honshus’s south coast, with Kagoshima on Kyushu, Hachinohe on northern Honshu, and Niigata and Nagano on Honshus’s west coast. The Shinkansen has very frequent departures between the major cities, and the trains reach a speed of 300 km / h. The safety is very high, and the system has never suffered any serious accident during the 45 years until 2010.
The world’s longest underwater railway tunnel, the 54 km long Seikan Tunnel, connects Honshu and Hokkaido. The subway is (2010) in nine of the largest cities and more are being built.
Ships in coastal traffic have no major significance for domestic freight transport, but almost all foreign trade is of course done by vessels. The merchant fleet was the largest in the mid-1970’s, but has since been reduced. The shipping companies have found it difficult to compete on the world market for cost reasons and many vessels have been sold or become flags of convenience. In 2007, the merchant fleet comprised approximately 12 million gross register tones under the Japanese flag and 120 million under the foreign flag. So far, it is now the world’s second largest (after Greece). The largest ports are in Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya and Osaka. The port of Kobe used to be the most important foreign port, but it was badly damaged in an earthquake in 1995.
Air connections, both domestic and international, are extensive and of great importance. The two largest airlines are All Nippon Airways (AJA) and Japan Airlines (JA). They each had about 5 million travelers in 2006 and were then ranked 8th and 9th among the world’s largest airlines. The largest international airports are the two in the Tokyo area (Haneda and Narita) as well as Osaka (Kansai) and Nagoya (Chubu Centrair). Haneda is the most important hub for the domestic lines. Kansai, which opened in 1994, is the world’s largest off-shore airport, ie. on an artificial island, and also Chubu lies on land gained from the sea.