How Does Transportation Speed 

Facilitate High Skilled Teamwork Across Cities?

If the skilled can move at higher speeds, then knowledge diffusion and idea spillovers are more likely to reach greater distances.


The spatial concentration of top universities in megacities generates a clear disparity in academic productivity across Chinese cities.

During the years 2006-2016, more than half of peer-reviewed international journal papers were produced by scholars at the universities in the aforementioned nine megacities. (figure from the paper)

China’s recent investment in the creation of the high-speed rail (HSR) network is a good target to test for the role of cross-city transportation speed as a key determinant of urban productivity.

These trains offer a high-quality comfortable ride and greatly reduce the travel time of commuting across cities. The HSR fare is quite affordable, especially for university researchers.

We measure the knowledge creation consequences associated with the construction of China’s high-speed rail (HSR) network that connects megacities, that feature the nation’s best universities, to secondary cities.

Data & Method

Using a database listing research paper publication and citations, we document a complementarity effect between knowledge production and the transportation network.


When connected by the HSR, co-author productivity rises, new co-author pairs emerge and more highly productive scientists migrate to the HSR cities.




Further Thought...

Cities exist because they economize on transportation costs. The boundary of a city’s agglomeration area is endogenous and hinges on transportation speed. If new technologies such as high-speed rail effectively make nearby cities “closer” to superstar cities (through moving at a faster speed), then the agglomeration benefits spread out further across space. 


Xiaofang Dong

Xiamen University

Siqi Zheng
MIT China Future City Lab, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, 
Center for Real Estate

Matthew E. Kahn

John Hopkins University and NBER

Web and Visuals

Ruichen Ni

MIT China Future City Lab


The material on this website can be used freely. We just ask that it is duly credited as a project by MIT China Future City Lab, and a PDF is sent to