China's Railway Ministry issued an urgent announcement on Monday ordering all local railway bureaus to step up concentrated efforts in coal transport to ensure the operation of the nation's key electric power plants.
It warned the shutting of some coal mines during the Spring Festival, which falls next month, tended to exacerbate supply tensions in the dry season when hydropower output declines. Thermal power plants also consume large quantities of coal, reducing the stock sharply.
To ensure fuel supply during the upcoming Lunar New Year and the National People's Congress session, the ministry said policies would favor coal transport. Coal heading for power plants in the country's economic hubs -- the eastern and central regions -- would be transported first.
In addition, the Ministry of Communications asked shipping companies to halt exports and transfer coal more swiftly to the big cities.
China is heavily dependent on coal as it is considered an affordable energy resource at a time when oil and natural gas prices rise steadily in the international market.
The country currently faces a 69.63 million kilowatt electricity supply shortfall. At present, 13 power grids at the provincial level have been temporarily switched off to limit power usage.
Railway transport has also been disrupted by the inclement weather of late. Unusually heavy snowfalls have hit large parts of the country since mid-January, leaving homes collapsed, power blackouts, highways closed and crops destroyed.
Weather forecasts this morning said snow was falling on Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Zhejiang, Anhui and Jiangsu provinces. Many of them supply large migrant populations that come to work in the country's biggest cities.