Big spending on high-speed rail pays off

10:19, February 28, 2010      

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The Chinese government's hefty spending on high-speed rail has paid off, easing traffic congestion and integrating the market, experts have said.

The recently built Wuhan-to-Guangzhou high-speed railway, which costs 116.6 billion yuan (17.1 billion U.S. dollars) and allows trains to race at an average speed of 350 km/h, has made train trips between the cities a breeze. The trip previously took at least 11 hours, now it takes only three.

In the first 26 days of the 40-day Spring Festival travel season, during which people travel home to reunite with family, the Wuhan-to-Guangzhou high-speed trains were 98 percent full, according to the Guangzhou Railway Group.

Chen Min, dispatcher in chief of the Group, said high-speed trains had moved 1.11 million passengers since the start of the travel season on January 30.

Another high-speed railway from the central city of Zhengzhou to Xi'an in the northwestern Shaanxi Province was also seeing similar attendance rates, according to the Zhengzhou Railway Bureau.

Statistics showed that, in the two months since line's opening on Dec. 26, 2009, 2.32 million people traveled on its high-speed trains.

Chen said, the high-speed trains greatly relieved traffic pressure during the travel season, the world's largest human migration and an annual test for China's transport system.

The high-speed trains have not only helped people get around the country during the travel rush, but have also freed existing tracks for delivery of more freight.

During the 26 days, the Guangzhou Railway Group transported a total of 450,000 tonnes of coal, oil and steel and iron, while before the advent of high speed railways freight trains had to suspend services during the period to make way for passenger trains.

The Zhengzhou-to-Xi'an high-speed railway is likewise easing pressure on the lines between Henan Province and other western regions, said Wang Yongping, spokesman of the MOR.

However, the government's enormous spending on high-speed rail has been questioned from time to time.

"New things tend to be questioned when they first appear," said Zhuang Jian, senior economist with the Asian Development Bank, comparing the current criticisms to the negative public reaction to the government's initiatives in building expressways in late 1990s.

"In retrospect, the expressways built at that time have played a very important role in assisting economic growth and integrating the national market," Zhuang said.

Zhuang also cited China's large population and vast area as factors making high-speed rail necessary.

The high-speed lines from Guangzhou to Wuhan and from Zhengzhou to Xi'an are just two of 42 high-speed lines recently opened or set to open by 2012 in China.

A network of high-speed railways would dramatically "shrink" the country, support a more integrated nationwide market and promote cooperation between the eastern coastal areas and the relatively backward inland regions, Zhuang said.

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