David Feng and the Railways

David Feng on Chinese HSR

The Early Beginnings

The Founder and Publisher of Tracking China, David Feng, has been on the rails of nearly 15 countries and territories since the 1990s. He remembers one of his earliest train trips with family and visitors, in Second Class in Switzerland, when travelling by train in a group was a relaxing experience.

The “addiction to rails” continued during his years in school in Zürich. He would travel on Suburban Railways from home to school, including, in perfect Swiss timing, transferring from one train to the other within less than four minutes. Due to a change in school (to a more challenging one) for high school, he was for two years the holder of a Swiss General Season Ticket in First Class, which was a fantastic way for him to explore the country he would soon be a citizen of. He was onboard the very first ICN tilting train service from Zürich Airport to St Gallen in May 2000.

Upon return to the place he was born in, Beijing, in the year 2000, David, now as a Swiss, was unfamiliar to the Chinese railway system, and was often rather “scared” by reports from travellers that it was a dirty, outdated network. In 2003 he got himself a driving licence and a car, and for the next four years, it would be how he would get around Beijing.

In October 2007, Beijing Subway Line 5 opened, which in essence revolutionised north-south city travel in the Chinese capital, massively slashing the time required to get from the northern to southern suburbs (in particular when compared to the unpredictable road chaos). He switched to the subway as a more efficient way of getting from A to B (coinciding with the switch from paper tickets to transit smartcards). In August 2008, the 350 km/h (218 mph) Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Railway opened, and he was onboard these HSR trains on the day this new service was inaugurated. Completing a 120 km (75 mile) journey in just half an hour — and in essence changing between two completely different cities — was something to David that was game-changing in that it changed “high speed travel outside of planes”.

In September 2010, whilst getting ready to host a TEDx event in Guangzhou (Canton), southern China, he travelled onboard the Wuhan-Guangzhou HSR, where speeds even in tunnels were up to 320 km/h (200 mph) or even faster. Such world-class services convinced David that it was now time to switch to railways for as much of his travels as possible.

From Railway Passenger to Observer and Independent Voice

DF Speaking on China Rail Topics (Wide)

On 30 June 2011, David and then-fiancé, now-wife Tracy, boarded Train G1, the first-ever Beijing-Shanghai HSR service to very visible media attention, being interviewed both at the ticket office and onboard the train, by local, national and international media. Reports about him and the trip were filed on Chinese Central Television, local media in Eastern China, CNN, and many other media outlets.

On 23 July 2011, two HSR trains rear-ended one other near Wenzhou, on the southeastern coast. The haughty attitude of the then-railways ministry angered millions, including David, but he stopped short of appearing on a TV show on the highly controversial matter, and also refused to fully withdraw support for Chinese HSR.

In November 2011, David, following a few more trips on HSR and weeks of thinking on this matter, published a highly influential bilingual article in support of Chinese HSR. The article, China Needs Faster and Better High Speed Rail, generated extensive discussion, and was eventually included for publication on the People’s Railway website, linked to the official national railways periodical. No longer merely a “fan” of the railways, he was genuinely concerned for the system, after a few new trunk lines had had their maximum design speeds downgraded, to the detriment of the nationwide transport network.

In February 2012, David and wife Tracy were invited to visit a key HSR manufacturer in Eastern China, and in the next month, he joined scholars, strategists, and experts at a summit discussing HSR organised by independent Chinese media. That same month, he also panelled and spoke at a nationwide convention about how Chinese HSR could show its more “international” elements.

By this time, David had established himself as one of the most visible independent voices on the Chinese railway system. When, a year later, the former railways ministry was disbanded and reorganised into a government-funded enterprise, David proposed a list of 100 improvements to Chinese railways, a move that was reported in Chinese media.

Establishing Tracking China

Tracking China (Wide)

In May 2012, David established the current Tracking China website as a foreign-language guide to China’s national rail (including HSR) and city metro networks, and merged all previous component sites under the new Web presence. These included:

  • Beijingology, a city wiki exploring Beijing from the city subway network, which was formed as early as 2006 (in alpha testing)
  • Beijing A to B, a companion site to Beijingology, which took more the form of a blog, rather than a wiki (this site was established around early 2009)
  • Civitology, a network of Chinese city wikis which, like Beijingology, discovered the city from the city metro network
  • Dear Passengers and Random Jaunts, two blogs which had a visible “rail travel in China” element and were mostly written in the first person by David himself
  • MobileMetro.mobi, an early-stage website optimised for smartphones, designed to be quick in loading and providing users with compact but comprehensive information about subway / metro lines and stations

The Beijingology project created content that would be used by the Beijing Planning and Exhibition Hall, and included content that would be used when hosting official government, commercial, or educational delegations in the museum during the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. It also “gave birth” to the Beijingologist blog on the City Weekend expat magazine in Beijing, and also provided content for the CNReviews blog.

A majority of these components would largely be saved, or updated, or kept, and most are presently being restored to the new Street Level China website network.

Chinese media immediately took note of the new Tracking China website. When a page David did for Wuxi East HSR station was posted online, it found itself the topic of a news report on local media.

The Tracking China website itself (and content produced by it and its associated projects) were mentioned by several key media organisations in China, including the official People’s Railway Daily periodical of Chinese national railways, the official China Railway periodical for an international audience (in English), and the Xinhua News Agency.

In late 2014, the website was moved to a faster, more powerful server, and in summer 2015, the site is undergoing one of the largest expansion projects ever, with a lot of previous content (including those that were prepared and about to be published) restored, and the site providing fuller coverage on China’s city metro networks.

Establishing Everyday Rail English for China

Everyday Rail English (Wide)

In 2011, David published with a China-based publisher a book on the “Chinglish” phenomenon, which sometimes happens when locals write English, but in a Chinese way of thinking (or with too little attention paid to the details), resulting in typos, grammar errors, or “outright epic fails” as some would prefer to call this. Chinglish is only so amusing to foreigners until a badly-translated sign makes them miss their flight or train — and this situation had to be addressed.

Not long after the book’s publication, it found itself in the eyes of key government officers and academics in closely relevant fields in Beijing. As a result, David was invited to in essence host his own show on city radio, explaining what proper English was, and this permitted him to work with some of the brightest in the language world in China.

In early 2013, David, now as Lecturer of a key Chinese university in media (the Communication University of China), was teaching everyone from associate degree students to university professors everything on how to use proper, academic English. At this time, he decided to merge his long-standing interest in the railways with his new academic responsibilities as lecturer, and in doing so, created Everyday Rail English for China. In June 2013, he authored a completely new list of recommended standards for the Chinese railways system, and this list, then at 1,000 phrases, is expected to reach 10,000 by late 2015. An increasing number of users in the official Chinese railway system are using these new standards, including key users such as Beijing rail crew onboard the Beijing-Shanghai HSR, railway stations in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong (Ji’nan West and 4 other stations), Tianjin Railway Station, and others. They have also been converted into two-hour lessons, given to railway organisations across China.

Everyday Rail English was recognised as an immediate and visible success, and it resulted in extensive media coverage, in many cases with news reports filled immediately after David concluded a training course in standardised railway English at any Chinese city. David got his own “back page” presence in July 2013, when the official People’s Railway Daily featured him, Tracking China, and Everyday Rail English for China on its back-page special. It also landed him a mention on the official Chinese civil ethics website, China Civics Web / Zhongguo Wenming Wang.

The success of Everyday Rail English meant that, just over half a year after launching the “daily special”, he first became the supplier of standardised rail English content to the official Weibo presence of Ji’nan Rail, and then, in August 2013, became columnist at the official railways periodical website, People’s Railway Web. These posts have continued to the present day as a long-term commitment. Bilingual content, including those for passengers (rather than short phrases for rail crew), have been reposted on Weibo, “the Chinese version of Twitter”, thousands of times, and these posts have reached an aggregated audience of millions, if not billions (for a population the size of China).

David and the Railways: Always Active, Always Visible

DF Rail Interview (Wide)

David is one of the most visible independent railway voices in China, and his added involvement in improving bilingual rail services in China makes him even more visible. Since 2007, David (or his websites, including Tracking China and all previous component websites), have been mentioned by key media, both inside China and the world over.

These include not just the national railway system in China, including China Railways, China Railway Report, People’s Railway Daily and People’s Railway Web, but also major local and national media organisations inside the country. Of these, they include Xinhua News Agency, Chinese Central Television, China National Radio, China.com.cn, Beijing Daily, Guangzhou Daily, Global Times, Southern Metropolis Daily, Radio Beijing, Qingdao Television, and Sinocism.

Overseas, they have also included CNN, AdAge, Global Voices, the Sustainable Cities Collective, and CNReviews, amongst others. He remains active even outside of media interviews. He has also spoken via Skype to Australia on the Chinese HSR story in summer 2012.

To this day, David has travelled on railway systems in Greater China (Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan), as well as in the US, UK, Ireland, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

Stay in Touch with David Feng

Contact David
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Use the below links if you are from the media and would like to interview David.

Tracking China and the Media
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Learn more about David’s train experience and track record

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