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The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » October 1, 2010
China in Poland
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Accelerating to a Better Future
October 1, 2010   
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By Yang Jianxiang (China Features)

Businesswoman Zeng Xiaowei lives in Fuzhou, the provincial capital of China’s southeast Fujian Province. Normally, when she wants to visit her parents in Xiamen, about 300 kilometers away in south Fujian, it takes her five hours by bus.

Zeng could fly, but that would cost three times as much.

The train is not a good choice either because the railway was not originally built along the shortest route – along the coastline linking the two cities.

Fujian is on the Taiwan strait. In the days when relations between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland were tense, the building of a rail line along the coastal frontier was not seen as politically sensible by the mainland authorities.

Because of that decision, Zeng’s trip to see her parents by train would take about 11 hours.

Things changed recently when a new, 275 km rail line went into operation on April 26 this year. Trains on the Fuzhou-Xiamen high-speed rail line run at maximum speed of 250 kph.

“The entire trip only takes one-and-a-half hours. And one train is available every hour. That is very convenient,” says Zeng.

China’s development of a high-speed rail service may have been late but over the past five years, China has accomplished what other countries have taken decades to achieve.

China’s first high-speed rail line, the 120 km Beijing to Tianjin inter-city line, came into operation on Aug. 1, 2008.

According to the Ministry of Railways, by the end of 2009, there were 6,552 km of high-speed track in operation and an additional 10,000 km were under construction.

It is expected that by the end of 2012, China will have 13,000 km of high-speed rail in service in a rail system covering 110,000 km. A high-speed rail network with four north-south and four east-west lines will take shape and most of the provincial capitals of China will be accessible from Beijing via high-speed train in under eight hours.

One of these, the Wuhan-Guangzhou high-speed rail line, opened in December 2009 and runs 33 trains a day. Statistics from the Ministry of Railways suggest that their average occupancy rate is 84%, with 82,200 passengers recorded on the busiest day.

High-speed trains carried 2.132 million passengers traveling between Wuhan and Guangzhou in the 40-day peak period around the Lunar New Year’s Day. This relieved pressure on conventional train services and other means of transport. The high-speed train is expected to help in other peak seasons like National Day and summer vacations for students.

The development of high-speed rail is a response to growing transport demand that results from quick industrialization and urbanization.

Large-scale investments in high-speed projects, involving a long chain of industries, also help the economy in difficult economic times.

More importantly though, building infrastructure such as this has a deep-reaching effect on the whole of society in China. A common saying by Chinese villagers in the early 1980s when the country’s economic reforms had just started, was, “Build the road before building wealth.” A current version of the saying might well start, “Build the high-speed railroad...”

High-speed rail has many advantages: it is fast, comfortable, and has a large carrying capacity. And its environmentally-friendly nature is in step with global trends.

High-speed trains run with little noise, vibration or carbon emissions. Figures from the Ministry of Railways show it is both cost- and energy-efficient, consuming less than 16 kw/h of electricity per person. This is a 20% saving compared to air travel and 30% compared to travel by car.

Overall energy consumption by a high- speed train is the equivalent of 0.24 tons of coal for 10,000 yuan of revenue, which is 43% that of a conventional train. The construction of high-speed rail line is comparatively land saving, because the rail base is narrower than in a conventional line, and in the case of the Wuhan-Guangzhou route, 80% of the rails are laid on bridges or in tunnels.

High-speed rail development is also a way to achieve the government’s strategic goal for technical and equipment modernization. The normal speed of trains running on the Wuhan-Guangzhou line is 350 kph. It is the world’s fastest train in service. A faster train, with a maximum speed of up to 500 kph, is being developed.

According to the Ministry of Railways, by August 2010, China’s high-speed trains had safely traveled 80 million km, carrying more than 300 million ticketed passengers. China claims to be the world leader in rail, and particularly high-speed rail technologies.

Chinese rail technology comes from several sources: independent innovation; developed in partnership with other countries; and through technology transfer. Ministry of Railways statistics showed that between 2003 and 2009 China’s railway sector submitted 946 patent applications.

“The international elements of our technology are all legally acquired,” said Chen Juemin, director-general of the Ministry of Railways Department for International Cooperation, “There has been no dispute of that.”

China’s high-speed rail development has impressed the world. Since 2003 China has signed some 30 agreements and memorandums of understanding with other countries on cooperation in railway development. On that list are such countries as the United States, Russia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Poland and India.

China is prepared to share its high-speed rail expertise with the world. The Ministry of Railways encourages domestic companies to seek contracts abroad. As the chief coordinator of these activities, the ministry has set up a handful of coordinating groups. Each specializes in a specific country or region. Diverse resources are being organized into formidable bidding groups.

High-standard construction and sound operational records at home demonstrate China’s capability in high-speed rail development. Together with reasonable prices and preferential government policies in bank loans, insurance and taxes, Chinese bidders are proving fairly competitive on the international market.

However, a Chinese bidder suffered a major setback in tendering for the Mecca- Medina phase II project in Saudi Arabia. The bidding group led by CSR (China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Corporation) dropped out of the game in mid-July because it lacked experience in managing high-speed services abroad.

The Ministry of Railways also admitted that it had a shortage of specialists, particularly people with skills in foreign languages, to deal with a rapidly growing export business.

To some foreigners, China’s development of high-speed rail is a powerful way to rejuvenate what could otherwise be seen as a dying means of transport. Chinese high-speed rail is indeed one of the few truly valuable and competitive products that China has to offer the world.

This achievement was attained through the strategy administered by the Chinese government, which proved invaluable at steering massive operations in a centralized manner.

The expansion of high-speed railways is changing the mass transportation business. As a result of high-speed train services between Zhengzhou and Xi’an, flights between the two cities have been driven off the market. But the pressure of railways on other means of transport need not necessarily be negative. Competition may get tough but each form of transportation has its own sphere where it excels.

Ground transport is best for short-distance journeys. High-speed trains are probably best for travel of up to 1,000 km. Air travel holds sway for longer distances.

As for Zeng Xiaowei, she says she will still take the bus from Fuzhou to Xiamen if she has heavy luggage, because she has a bus stop near her home. Otherwise, she will choose the high-speed train.
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