In the past over 60 years after establishment, CARS has experienced five major historic periods including establishment, development, stagnation, recovery & revitalization and reform & development, a history full of difficulties and glories.

CARS has been closely connected with the course of China Railways development. In November 1949, only one moth after the birth of new China, the Ministry of Railways decided to build up a railway research institute. On March 1, 1950, MOR Railway Technology Research Institute was founded in Tangshan, and Mr. Tang Zhenxu was appointed as the director. In September of the same year, the institute was renamed as Railway Research Institute with the headquarter moved to Beijing. Mr. Mao Yisheng, the famous scientist, educator and bridge engineering expert, was appointed as the director.

Ever since the establishment, Mr. Mao Yisheng, the director, put forward the principle of "All works for Research, All Researches for Transport". Then, CARS engaged in the operation recovery of railway network destroyed seriously in the war and in the construction of new lines. CARS participated into the preparation and implementation of railway science & technology development program in new China, and carried out a lot of effective works focusing on railway development in economy recovery period.

In 1960s, CARS answered actively the CPC's call of "March towards the Science", focused on enhancement of research capability, expanded research fields, and made great efforts in technology tackling for third line construction. These boost the science and technology progress of China Railways greatly.

During the Cultural Revolution period, CARS overcame many difficulties completed persistently technology tackling and testing tasks for Tanzania-Zambia Railway, etc..

After the 3rd Session of the 11th Party Congress, CARS centered on the principle of "focusing on scientific research, enhancing research management and establishing the normal order of scientific research". Therefore, the normal order of scientific research was established and research works was recovered and revitalized. From the middle of 1980s, CARS started the reform on science and technology system. Leveraging on reforms on leadership system and operation system, the enthusiasm of scientific and technological personnel was mobilized and development vitality was stimulated. In 1980s, CARS completed the important technology tackling tasks for Datong-Qinhuangdao Line, Hengyang-Guangzhou Line, etc.. In 1990s, CARS completed the tasks including Computer Ticketing and Reservation System for the Whole Railway System, overall technology and key technologies of Beijing - Shanghai High Speed Line, Auxiliary Projects for Beijing - Kowloon Line. CARS offered technological support for railway construction and transportation by a lot of research achievements.

After entering into the new century, according to the requirements on reforming national research institutes and the overall requirement of MOR as "Transforming to An Enterprise in One Year, Establishing Rules in Two Years, and Realizing Standardization in Three Years", CARS promoted management reform comprehensively, established basic enterprise management system and operation mechanism, and realized successfully the transformation from an public institution to an enterprise, thus further improving development capacity.

In recent years, CARS has determined the policy of industrial service as the foundation for develop, and commercialization of research achievements as the strategy for prosperity, focused on key railway fields such as speed up, heavy haul, high speed, PDL and plateau railway, and made great efforts for original innovation, integration innovation and re-innovation after import, digestion and absorption. CARS has made a number of research achievements of world leading level in aspects of 250km/h speed up of existing line, 20,000 ton heavy haul technology, traction, braking and network control systems of high speed EMU, ballastless track system for PDL, traffic control system and 400km/h high speed comprehensive inspection train. Moreover, CARS completed excellently integration testing and commissioning for all high speed lines and PDLS opened already, and offered a lot of technical services for China Railways in aspects of traffic organization, technical standard, information consultation, quality inspection & certification, infrastructure inspection, energy conservation & environmental protection, education & training and exhibition. In addition, CARS has applied and established 6 state-level innovation platforms, including National Engineering Laboratories for System Test of High-Speed Railway, State Key Laboratory for Track Technology of High-Speed Railway, , State Key Laboratory for Traction and Control System of Locomotive and EMU, National Research Center of System Engineering of Railway Intelligent Transport, and Equipment Testing Line of Urban Rail Transit. CARS has established four innovation bases as Yongfeng Wors,Changping Technical Commercialization Base, Huairou Works and Communication and Signaling Innovation Base, became the one of the first batch of national special technical talent training base, which trained and cultivated a number of top talents in technological innovation. Besides, CARS made great efforts to improve the housing and living standards of the working staff. CARS has forged the culture of "being innovative, hardworking, rigorous and harmonious", and realized rapid improvement in comprehensive enterprise capacity and core competitiveness. In 2010, CARS is ranked as the 208 in China's Top 500 Service Enterprises.