China Power

Shanghai Travel Blues

What a change to Shanghai’s bullet train says about the city’s future plans – and concerns.

This is the second in a series of guest entries on economics and life in Shanghai by Bill Dodson, director of Strategic Analysis at TrendsAsia Ltd and author of the upcoming book ‘China Inside Out: 10 Irreversible Trends Re-shaping China and Its Relationship with the World’. Bill normally blogs at This is China!


‘It’s impossible there aren’t any tickets,’ I told the ticket seller. All I wanted to do was buy a return ticket to and from Shanghai on the bullet train. The about hourly train into and out of Shanghai is a 35-minute ride from where I was travelling. But now, it seemed, the bullet train I usually took no longer existed.

That’s because on July 1, the high-speed G-train started servicing the Suzhou–Shanghai route, reaching westward through Jiangsu Province to Wuxi, Changzhou and Nanjing. However, the G-train doesn’t run to the downtown area, but only to the outskirts of Shanghai. In fact, a friend who recently travelled the G-train from Shanghai to Suzhou told me the Hongqiao stop where passengers for Shanghai alight doesn’t even reach as close to downtown as Hongqiao Airport.

Meanwhile, the subway line that’s meant to run from downtown Shanghai to the two Hongqiao stops has yet to be completed, so commuters who have been using the bullet train to get into work in Shanghai are in a bind. They have to take buses and taxis to get to their offices from Hongqiao station, and there are no lines running in parallel as they ramp up the G-line to soak up excess passenger capacity.

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The reason for this travel mess is that authorities needed to bring the G-line online as quickly as possible to charge the fares that would begin showing the returns shareholders have been expecting. G-line tickets, at 41 RMB per ticket each way, are nearly double the cost of the old bullet train tickets.

My friend said that even after they complete the subway line, it’s still another 40 minutes at least into the downtown area, plus a taxi from there to the office, meaning it can easily take 2 hours to commute by public transport into work into Shanghai.

But this infrastructure disconnect actually makes sense within the context of Shanghai municipality not wanting to make it easier for Jiangsu Province, and eventually Zhejiang Province, to absorb revenue, property values and even professionals from Shanghai. Shanghai needs all of these to perpetuate its mantle as the country’s leading financial and services centre, and it can’t afford to see its own property values deflated as citizens find other cities less expensive and more convenient to live and work in.

Pity the poor Shanghainese who bidded up the property market in Suzhou under the impression that the new railway would get them conveniently into downtown Shanghai in 20 minutes. It’s possible that when the realization sets in that they’ve been duped by the authorities seeking to pay off the cost of the railway with inflated ticket sales, Suzhou may see a relaxation of property values, instead of unreasoned speculation. That’s a silver lining I look forward to seeing.