Railway construction getting back on track

Updated: 2012-02-17 09:39

By Xin Dingding (China Daily)

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Railway construction getting back on track

Construction of China's high-speed railways, halted due to funding shortages, will resume this year, the government says. [Photo/China Daily]

Projects halted due to funding shortage will resume this year

BEIJING - With 3,500 kilometers of new high-speed railways expected to be put into use this year, the length of China's high-speed railways will exceed 10,000 kilometers, a senior railway official said.

Insiders said the construction of high-speed railways, which was halted due to funding shortage, will resume this year.

Yang Zhongmin, director of the planning department of the Ministry of Railways, said that all four of the planned North-South rail arteries for China's high-speed rail system will be complete, according to People's Daily on Thursday.

One of the four arteries, the Beijing-Shanghai line, opened in June. The others will connect Beijing and Guangzhou in South China, Beijing and Harbin in Northeast China, and cities on the southeast coast with high-speed railways.

Though a section of rail between Xiamen and Shenzhen will not be finished this year, the four arteries will start operation and significantly cut travel time between major cities, Yang said.

For instance, train travel from Beijing to Shenzhen will take eight hours instead of the current 24 hours, and trips from Beijing to Harbin will take only five hours instead of nine.

China's high-speed rail sector was hampered by a funding shortage last year, when money from the government's 4 trillion yuan ($635 billion) stimulus plan dried up and the government's tightened monetary policy, after which the ministry was unable to get bank loans. More than 10,000 kilometers of high-speed railway projects were halted.

Wang Mengshu, a leading rail tunnel expert, said on Thursday that railway construction is expected to resume this year.

Wang, deputy chief engineer at China Railway Tunnel Group, told China Daily, citing a recent railway working conference, that the work on 6,000 kilometers of halted railway projects will resume this year and funds will be allocated gradually.

"The ministry will also begin nine new railway projects this year, but none of them are high-speed railways," he said.

An article posted on Feb 8 on the website of the Chongqing development and reform commission, a branch of China's top economic planner, supports Wang's statement.

According to the article, Lu Dongfu, deputy minister of railways, said at a meeting on Dec 30 that the ministry plans to spend 406 billion yuan on 249 infrastructure projects this year.

The money will be used to complete 63 rail projects, continue work on 177 others and begin nine new ones. Besides, the ministry would like to begin 53 other projects this year.

But Yang Hao, a railway professor at Beijing Jiaotong University, said that the 53 projects would need the approval of the National Development and Reform Commission before ground could be broken on them.

The ministry has stressed that the plan for infrastructure spending is "subject to changes", and experts believe that funding is the crucial factor that could determine whether the full plan is carried out.

Zhao Jian, another railway professor at Beijing Jiaotong University, said it remains unclear how the ministry will pull together 400 billion yuan because it has clear access to only 80 billion yuan from the railway construction fund and other sources. "And even the 80 billion yuan is not enough to pay off the interest generated by the 2 trillion yuan debt the ministry owes," he said.

China has planned to build a railway network of 120,000 kilometers by 2015, including at least 16,000 kilometers of high-speed railways.

Railway construction getting back on track