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Rail reform on track
By Hua Hua (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-02-24 16:24

The new development plan for the national railway system demonstrates the authorities' determination to break the transportation bottleneck that has long hindered China's economic development.

The Ministry of Railways, the industry's watchdog, has just published middle- and long-term schemes after the approval of the State Council to upgrade the railway system to the year 2020.

The newly-mapped blueprint involves a massive investment of 2 trillion yuan (US$240 billion) to the sector, which will add 16,000 kilometres of rail lines to the current system and increase double tracking and electrification along the trunk lines.

By 2020, 100,000 kilometres of rail lines will traverse the country.

Such an ambitious development plan serves a pressing need in the current economic development.

For a country with such a vast population and broad territory, railways are destined to play a critical role in both passenger and cargo transportation, especially over long distances.

China's rail capacity has been suffering a notorious shortage, which ignites public complaints and constrains economic development.

China's railways, about 6 per cent of the world's total, are responsible for transporting 22 per cent of the world's population. The per capita railway line in China is as long as a cigarette.

Such a shortage is highlighted around each Spring Festival, when hundreds of millions of citizens travel.

If the established goals are fulfilled in time, the transportation insufficiency will be greatly relieved, but they hardly meet the demand completely.

More dramatic expansions are needed, and the other challenges confronting the railway sector are no less daunting.

The current investment model with State capital as almost the only financing source can hardly meet the fund requirements. The railway sector is thus in need of further reforms.

Flexible financing mechanisms need to be explored and introduced to more projects.

The newly charted development plan will press ahead the reform of the railway sector while lengthening the country's railway lines.

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