A new Shanghai-Nanjing railway line and another between Shanghai and Ningbo will be completed by the end of 2010, allowing trains to travel between the cities at high speed.
Express passenger lines will connect cities in the Yangtze River Delta region to other major cities including Beijing, Wuhan and Shenzhen, said Zhang Jianping, deputy director of development and planning for the Ministry of Railways.
Zhang also said other upgrading efforts include the electrification of current rail links, the construction of hubs in Shanghai and Nanjing, a double-deck container transportation network and links between ports and cities in the delta.
The 300-kilometre Shanghai-Nanjing rail link, when completed, will have a designed speed of 250 kilometres per hour.
The 305-kilometre express passenger line between Shanghai and Ningbo via Hangzhou will allow trains to travel at least 200 kilometres per hour, with the highest speed 350 kilometres per hour.
Another main regional line to be finished by the end of the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10) period will connect Nanjing and Anqing in Anhui Province, said Zhang.
When the new lines are completed, existing railways will be mainly devoted to cargo.
According to the ministry's blueprint, a regional rail system running on a regular schedule will be completed by 2020.
The Yangtze River Delta has been emphasized in the blueprint for the coming 15 years, because the densely populated area which contributes one-fifth of China's gross domestic product has a soaring demand for fast transportation.
The ministry estimates that the area's passenger traffic will reach 5.5 billion by 2020, and Zhang said the current transportation structure cannot meet the demands, especially during peak hours.
Most transport in the area currently depends on highways and roads.
Ministry statistics show that railways carried only 94 million passengers in 2002, while 1.6 billion travelled on highways and roads.
However rail travel has many advantages compared with roads.
For example, the completed regional rail system can provide "a punctual, fast and convenient travel service" for passengers, Zhang said, and ease the pressure of rush hour traffic.
Railways also take less land, need less fuel and cause less pollution, he added.
But these construction projects all need stable, reliable capital, said Zhang.
According to the Mid-and Long- Term Railway Network Development Programme, estimated preliminary investments will amount to over 2 trillion yuan (US$250 billion) by 2020.
The ministry has allowed both foreign and private capital to help fund railway construction, the transport business and the building of transport facilities.
"Railway construction projects are low risk investments with stable returns in the long run," Zhang said.
"With a good rate of returns, the regional rail system in the Yangtze River Delta is especially good for strategic investment."
To create a better investment environment, the ministry is pushing for further reform of the financing mechanism.
Zhang said: "In the future, the ministry will continue to open the market of railway construction and adopt multiple financing means to absorb more foreign capital."
(China Daily 06/27/2006 page2)