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Full Steam Ahead for High-Speed Rail Projects in China

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0708-2.1.jpgBEIJING -- While celebrating the official opening of the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway on July 1, China's Ministry of Railways said it would press ahead with railway development in the next five years.

China's 12th Five-Year Plan, which was approved in March by the national legislature, the National People's Congress, for China's growth between 2011 and 2016, projects that the country will put 18,750 miles of new lines into operation, Vice Minister of Railways Hu Yadong told the media in mid-June.

By 2016, the total length of railways in China will increase by about 30 percent to reach around 75,000 miles, up from the current 56,875 miles, (but still 62,500 miles less than the total rail lines in the United States), Hu said.

According to the ministry, the total mileage of high-speed and express rail lines will reach some 28,125 miles while the railway lines in the western part of China will extend more than 31,250 miles by 2016.

The total investment and financing will amount to 2.8 trillion yuan ($432 billion), an increase of 41.4 percent from 2006-2010, according to Hu.

The new high-speed railway between China's capital and the largest metropolis is the world's longest high-speed rail so far. It stretches 823 miles (1,318 kilometers), more than triple the distance between Washington, DC and New York City.

The line runs 90 pairs of trains daily, traveling at either 187 miles/h or 156 miles/h (300 km/h or 250 km/h).

The fastest travel time between the two cities will be four hours and 48 minutes, or about half the time trains currently take.
The ministry said that Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway is a landmark project. "Its technology is advanced, its quality reliable and safety guaranteed," Hu said.

The new high-speed railway will likely ease the congested traffic between the two cities with stops in the country's most prosperous cities on the east coast.

The first direct rail link between the two cities opened in 1968. Although it accounted for only 2 percent of the nation's total railway network, it transported more than 10 percent of the country's passengers and 7 percent of its freight, four times the national average.

China's high-speed rail network had reached 5,223 miles at the end of 2010 and is expected to exceed 10,000 miles by 2020.

The railway is expected to draw some passengers from the lucrative Beijing-Shanghai air route, but airlines are confident of winning them back.

"People might like to try a new mode of transport," Zhu Qingyu, head of the marketing department at China Air Transport Association, said. "As long as China's economy is booming and the demand for travel is increasing, neither airlines nor the high-speed railway need to worry about passenger flow."

Despite its ambitious railway development plan, the new Railways Minister Sheng Guangzu made it clear in April that railway development should not outpace demand too much.

Sheng became the new railway chief after former minister Liu Zhijun was placed under investigation for "serious disciplinary violations", according to a government decree.

Sheng stressed in an interview with the People's Daily in April that the future work arrangement will give priority to ongoing projects to ensure they have enough funds for construction to be completed and will emphasize projects that are in urgent demand.

In China's history, the first railway, only 0.31 mile, was laid in Beijing as a show piece by British merchants in 1865. But until 1949, only 13,631 miles of rail lines were operational.

The rail lines more than doubled between 1950 and 1980.

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