CHINA's State Planning Committee has lifted the embargo on new metro construction which was imposed in 1995 to limit demands for foreign exchange. Vice-Minister of Construction Zhao Baojiang announced on August 8 that urban rail expansion was now to be encouraged as a means of stimulating the national economy.

However, the government has stipulated that most contracts should be awarded to domestic firms, with foreign contributions limited to 30%.

Following the start of work on Nanjing Line 1 (RG 7.99 p420), construction of the Shenzhen light metro is expected to get under way within the next few months.

Projects for metro and light rail lines in 15 cities with over 1 million inhabitants envisage the development of 430route-km at a cost of 140bn yuan. Plans for lines in Shenyang, Qingdao and Chongqing were well advanced when the moratorium was imposed, and should be reactivated quickly.

Work was due to start last month on a 40 km light rail network to serve the Zhongguancun high-techology zone in the northwestern suburbs of Beijing. Costed at 5·8bn yuan, the line will take three years to build. Funding for the initial phases will come from the Qiong Min Yuan development company owned by Beijing City Council and property developer Zhu Zong.