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I was back riding China's railways on Saturday at the same time as my sister was making a similar journey by train in Australia.
The contrast could not have been greater.
My trip of 1200km from Shanghai to Beijing took just 4 hours and 55 minutes, with one stop in the old capital of Nanjing and another at the industrial city of Jinan.
Despite persistent rain our train, known as Harmony, sat on 302 km/h and my first class ticket cost $186.
My sister's journey was somewhat slower.
Despite having to travel 280km less from Brisbane to Sydney her trip was an epic 16 hours on the XPT, or Express Passenger Train - a misnomer if there ever was one.
It averaged 63 km/h and was delayed for more than an hour after hitting two cows near Maitland.
It made me wonder which one of us was living in a developing country.
China does of course have some of the world's best infrastructure and over the last decade has built more high speed rail lines than any other country.
That network now extends 16,000km across the country and will double in size over the next five years.
"These trains have totally transformed China," says Yang Yao, dean of the National School of Development at Peking University.
"If you look at purely the economic returns they are quite low, but the social benefits are much higher."
Yang said the high speed rail network had changed the idea of geography in China and opened up the country.
Take Hangzhou, a city of 8.8 million people 250km from Shanghai, which is most famous for its West Lake and being home to internet giant Alibaba.
Before the high speed train arrived it was a grinding four hour drive from China's commercial capital or a much delayed flight. These days it's like an outer suburb of Shanghai, taking just 45 minutes on the train.
"I know lots of people who live in Hangzhou and work in Shanghai," said Yang.
More than this, the high speed rail network has connected Shanghai to manufacturers throughout the Yangtze River Delta, allowing foreign and domestic buyers to easily visit their suppliers.
Similar effects have been felt around the Bohai Bay in northern China and Pearl River Delta in the southern province of Guangdong.
Indeed, the World Bank estimates the high speed rail network has halved the so called "economic distance" in Guangdong, delivering a 10 per cent rise in "average business productivity".
"China's high speed rail network is the largest and fasting expanding in the world, bringing significant impacts on labour productivity, jobs, industrial growth and regional development," the Bank said in a report last year.
On the downside only a handful of routes across the network are profitable when taking into account the 1.9 trillion yuan ($400 billion) spent in the five years to 2015 on capital expenditure. The roll-out was plagued by corruption and heavily criticised for the brutal forced evictions of those living along planned routes.
And the network's safety was severely undermined by the Wenzhou crash in July 2011 which killed 40 people.
But it should be remembered the network began as a stimulus measure during the global financial crisis and therefore played a big part in keeping the economy out of recession.
In this context it appears a far better long term investment than the school halls built across Australia and the $900 cash bonus which fuelled sales of flat screen TVs and PlayStations.
For China the embrace of high speed rail could also turn into a significant export industry.
Premier Li Keqiang has made himself the country's "number one train salesman" and China tasted its first export success earlier this month when it secured a deal with Russia.
The Premier has mentioned Australia as a possible export market, but this seems unlikely unless unions are prepared to compromise on the importation of foreign labour and governments abandon local procurement requirements.
If that were to happen, a high speed rail line on the east coast might just be viable when the broader benefits were taken into account.
The World Bank estimates Chinese technology and construction is around half the price of countries like Germany and South Korea.
That's a big saving and if embraced would confine the XPT to the museum where it belongs.
This article first appeared on www.afr.com
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