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Towards sustainability in the high-speed railway industry: modeling of cases from China

Yuanhui Li (School of Economics and Management, Beijing Jiaotong University, Beijing, China, and)
Check-Teck Foo (Harbin Institute of Technology, Harbin, China)

Chinese Management Studies

ISSN: 1750-614X

Article publication date: 28 October 2014




This paper aims to document and to illustrate highly usable research: a practical framework for realizing the sustainable operations of the high investment, technology-intensive high-speed railways in China. Also, for the first time, we draw a broad, metaphorical relationship between railways within a country to Chinese meridian lines within a human body. These are similar in enabling flows across the country and human body.


Employing Chinese case studies, we attempt to apply methodological procedures involving operational, financial and developmental in realizing the sustainability of high-speed railways. Critical criteria are emphasized for efficiency, financial viability and long-term funding sustained development of high-speed railways in the Chinese context. Policymakers may utilize the illustrative framework in working toward specific recommendations that may be implementable.


Three critical aspects to sustainability are operational, financial solvency and developmental. Our empirical investigations result in the working out of the procedural aspects as well. Based on this three-way classification, we design an evaluative framework for realizing sustainability of high-speed railways. Our insights are based on the social reality of China. Thus, we argue that cash handouts by government are necessary solutions, given the intensive capital investments required of high-speed railways for strongly positive externalities generated. On developmental aspects of sustainability, there should be rational, in-depth studies conducted so as to lead to rational choices of sites. Strong passenger flows coupled with affordability of fares are the twin guarantees of continuing, profitable performances.

Practical implications

This work on sustainability is globally, most highly significant for two reasons. First, railway is one fundamental mean of transportation within China. Thus, the sustainability of railway matters to a majority of the 1.3 billion people. Second, transport volume of China’s railway is the world’s largest. By developing such a comprehensive methodology, we hope to enhance how top management of Chinese Railways may keep the high-speed railways sustainable into the future.

Social implications

This paper is socially highly significant, especially in the context of what has happened in recent years in China’s railway industry, and may contribute by providing both the regulators and management with an objective methodology in future projects assessment within high-speed railway.


This paper develops an overall framework for enabling management to realize sustainability of high-speed railway within China. The ideas, concepts and methodologies are likely beneficial to top management, regulators and policymakers within the railway transportation, a state monopoly.



This article is sponsored by the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (Approval No. 2014JBM045), the Humanity and Social Science Research Youth Foundation of China (Approval No. 12YJCZH118) and the development program of railway ministry science and technology research (2011F008), The authors also would like to express their most sincere appreciation to anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.


Li, Y. and Foo, C.-T. (2014), "Towards sustainability in the high-speed railway industry: modeling of cases from China", Chinese Management Studies, Vol. 8 No. 4, pp. 624-641.



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Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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