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Cities going head-to-head in competition for high-speed rail stops

(Global Times)    10:00, April 29, 2015

Tens of thousands of citizens in Jingmen, Hubei Province, took part in a campaign lobbying for a high-speed railway to pass through their city on April 12, in an attempt to compete with their counterparts in Jingzhou, a neighboring city, who lodged a similar appeal in late March.

More than 10,000 citizens in Jingzhou, some 80 kilometers to the south of Jingmen, endorsed a proposal for a railway to pass through its high-speed railway station on March 28 and 29, China Business Journal reported.

The competing proposals come as part of fierce competition between neighboring cities nationwide, all of whom hope that high-speed railways can boost local economic growth.

China Railway Corporation statistics showed that China had over 110,000 kilometers of railways, 15,000 kilometers of which were high-speed railways as of the end of 2014.

City vs city

A bullet train route running from East China's Shanghai to Chengdu, the capital of Southwest China's Sichuan Province, by way of Central China's Hubei Province, is being studied to link the Yangtze River Delta cities, the Wuhan metropolitan area in Hubei and the Chengdu-Chongqing economic zone. But whether the route will pass through Jingzhou or Jingmen remains unknown.

"Without a high-speed train, towns are scattered pearls, while a train would string them all on the same necklace. Many cities can prosper due to convenient transportation," read the proposal formulated by the Jingzhou-based Yangtze River Business Chamber of Commerce.

In response, the Jingmen-based Chang Yuan Science and Technology Company, the only major city in Hubei not linked with China's bullet train network, shot a video to draw public attention.

"When we [tried to shoot footage] of Jingmen residents having to go to Jingzhou to take bullet trains, Jingzhou citizens shouted 'Here come the Jingmen people! They want to fight us for the high-speed railway.' They tried to drive us away," said Xiong Bing, president of the company.

This kind of fierce competition has been a frequent occurrence across China in recent years.

Hundreds of thousands of residents in Shaoyang, Hunan Province took to the streets in late 2008, saying that the "mayor and secretary of the CPC city committee should resign if they fail in the competition with Loudi, a neighboring city, for a high-speed train station," according to the Xinhua News Agency.

In the end, both cities were included on the route, local news portal ldnews.cn reported.

Non-governmental organizations in Xinye and Dengzhou, two neighboring cities in Henan Province, have waged high-profile campaigns for high-speed train stations since last September, The Beijing News reported.

Local governments were extremely active in plans to develop China's railway system when China's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) for railway development was drafted, a scholar at Beijing Jiaotong University who participated in the plan was quoted as saying by the China Times.

In the plan, provincial governments applied for 69,000-kilometers' worth of railways, worth 7 trillion yuan ($1.13 trillion). The National Railway Administration said it plans to build 23,000-kilometers of track with an investment of 2.8 trillion yuan.

During the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) period, provinces' zeal to construct railways resulted in 3.47 trillion yuan in investment, far beyond the original plan of 2.8 trillion yuan.

A golden opportunity

High-speed rail stations provide an enormous opportunity for cities plagued with backward infrastructure and traffic congestion to reshape themselves, Peng Zhimin, a research fellow at Hubei Academy of Social Sciences, was quoted as saying by Wuhan-based Changjiang Times on April 20.

"Modern cities serve as the hub for people, merchandise, information and capital flows. High-speed trains are of great significance to urban development since they help concentrate information and affluence," Peng said.

He cited Yichang in Hubei Province, as an example. Its newly-built railway station in the eastern suburb has moved the city center some 10 kilometers east, encouraging more people to relocate in the suburbs and alleviating transportation issues, as well as issues with overcrowding and scarce educational resources in the old town, Peng explained.

Exchanges between cities can also be enhanced by intercity trains, driving regional economies and creating more jobs, noted Ye Qing, deputy head of Hubei Province's bureau of statistics.

"Now high-speed trains seem to be a necessary element for modern cities if they want to attract business and stimulate investment," Ye said.

A measured approach

"[But] not all cities are suitable for constructing high-speed train stations," Dong Yan, a transportation research fellow with the Academy of Macroeconomic Research under the National Development and Reform Commission, was quoted by China Business Journal as saying.

"Although some areas that have a small population and weak economy are incapable of recouping costs within decades, local governments are still competing for high-speed railway projects since they can be trumpeted as concrete achievements," said Dong.

As rail investment is open to local governments and private funds, local governments have gained more say in deciding the routes, said Wang Lei (pseudonym), a source who participated in the planning of several rail routes in Southwest China.

"However, both economic benefits and security issues such as geological and environmental conditions should be taken into account," Wang noted.

The desperate scramble for high-speed railway in underdeveloped cities and counties reflects a lack of realistic approaches to urban development, despite it appearing to mainly reflect citizens' yearning for bullet trains and more public utilities, said a commentary that ran Monday in the Xinhua Daily Telegraph.

The commentary said that local governments should seek to tamp down on the spreading competition by not being so eager for quick success and instant benefits, and should rather seek scientific development paths that fit local conditions, adding that the central government should give its support.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Gao Yinan,Bianji)

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