Chinese Railways' long-term expansion strategy includes development of duplicate corridors to segregate freight and passenger services, as well as new lines to open up the west of the country. Chris Jackson looks at the principal elements of the plan

ON JUNE 23 ceremonies were held to mark the start of construction of a 989 km high speed passenger railway between Wuhan and Guangzhou. Expected to cost 116·6bn yuan to build, it is due to be completed by 2010. The 350 km/h line will cut the journey time between the two cities from 11h today to just 4h.

The Wuhan - Guangzhou line is a key part of the Ministry of Railways' strategy of building a network of dedicated passenger routes over the next 15 years. Plans are already taking shape for the northern section of the emerging north-south corridor between Beijing and Wuhan, and for another eight corridors.

China's existing railways are buckling under the strain of unprecedented demand, with economic growth of 9% per annum in recent years forecast to continue at an average of 8% until 2010. The network is still growing at an average of more than 2000 route-km per year, but the construction teams are barely able to keep up with demand.

As well as the surging freight business, passenger traffic is also climbing to unprecedented levels. Annual passenger-km jumped from 332·2 billion in 1996 to 441·5 billion just five years later, driving up annual ticket revenues from 23·7bn to 36·9bn yuan over the same period with no fare increases.

Contributing to this growth has been CR's policy of accelerating its principal inter-city services with successive timetable changes. The first four speed-up programmes saw maximum speeds raised from 120 to 140 and 160 km/h on several corridors, with 13 838 route-km upgraded for higher speeds between 1996 and 2000. Further increases to 180 and 200 km/h were also envisaged, but the fifth speed-up which was scheduled to be launched with the October 2004 timetable change was postponed because of emerging capacity issues.

Acceleration of passenger services on mixed-traffic routes has exacerbated the speed differentials between inter-city and stopping passenger trains and freight operations, effectively reducing the number of paths available. This loss of capacity at the very time that the network was straining to handle the traffic on offer finally proved untenable.

The Ministry of Railways therefore decided that its future strategy for the busiest corridors should seek to optimise capacity by segregating fast passenger and heavy freight operations onto separate dedicated routes.

Dedicated passenger network

Under the 15-year strategic plan announced by Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun in February 2004, the intention is to build 28000 km of new lines by 2020, expanding the national network to over 100000 km. In broad terms, the minister said there would be 12000 km of dedicated passenger routes and 16000 km to open up western China.

The intention is to segregate passenger and freight operations onto their own exclusive tracks in the principal corridors, requiring the construction of more than 10000 km of dedicated passenger lines. At least half of the network, in terms of route-km, will be double-track, and a similar proportion will be electrified.

Detailed proposals for the 11th five-year plan period covering 2006-10 were unveiled on March 25. This covers 8000 km of new line, plus 4000 km of double-tracking and 4000 km of electrification. The ministry envisages that the network will reach 80000 route-km by 2007, at which point there will be 30000 km of double-track and a similar length of electrified line.

With rail-borne coal traffic forecast to reach 1·5 billion tonnes a year by 2010, the 11th five-year plan includes several new freight routes plus further investment to upgrade the existing Datong - Qinhuangdao heavy-haul corridor (p483).

The biggest element in the package, however, is the development of the dedicated passenger network. The ministry's intention is that the four principal cities - Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan and Guangzhou - will act as interchange hubs between the trunk lines and regional express passenger networks. By 2020, there will be four north-south and four east-west corridors, together with three regional inter-city networks (Table I).

The two principal north-south corridors are being designed for 350 km/h operation, with trains expected to run at 250 km/h on the other trunk lines and at 200 km/h on the three regional networks.

The dedicated lines will form the backbone for an express passenger network totalling 30000 route-km, with eight main service groups. This will include around 18000 km of mixed-traffic routes where passenger trains will run at between 140 and 200 km/h as conditions permit, as they do today.

The 2005-10 plan includes construction of eight passenger lines totalling 5000 km. Two of these projects are being driven forward to support international events. The 115 km Beijing - Tianjin line is due to be ready in time for the 2008 Olympic Games being held in the capital, and the Nanjing - Shanghai - Hangzhou regional network is to be ready for the 2010 World Expo.

June 12 saw the start of work on the 189 km Shijiazhuang - Taiyuan line, which will include a 27·8 km tunnel, (RG 7.05 p391). The Xi'an - Zhengzhou and Ningbo - Xiamen passenger lines are also expected to be completed by 2010, although no dates have been announced for the start of work.

The definitive route for the 140 km inter-city line between Guangzhou and Zhuhai was announced on June 27, with construction expected to start in July for completion by the end of 2006. Costing 19·5bn yuan, the line is projected to cut the present 2h road journey between the two cities to around 44min by the fastest trains. There will be 18 stations along the route, with stopping services expected to take 86min. The line has been re-routed around Foshan, and the project now includes a branch serving Zhongshan and Jiangmen.

Civil engineering is scheduled to get underway on the long-planned Beijing - Shanghai high speed line by the end of this year, with the aim of completing the 1370 km route by 2010. Last year the government ruled out the use of maglev in favour of conventional technology.

Orders have already been placed for 200 km/h EMUs to operate regional express services on both existing lines and the emerging passenger network (p485), and tenders are expected to be called next year for a fleet of around 200 high speed trains to operate services on the principal routes at 300 to 350 km/h. The ministry has already held extensive discussions with European and Japanese suppliers.

The ministry is still developing its infrastructure strategy for high speed lines, and is negotiating with international consultancies and project management groups such as Bechtel for technical assistance packages. In June the ministry signed an agreement for Parsons Brinckerhoff to provide project management on the 460 km Xi'an - Zhengzhou passenger line. Meanwhile, the China Academy of Railway Sciences is undertaking research into optimum designs for earthworks, structures and track.

Funding innovation

Experts at the Ministry of Railways estimate that there is a gap of around 2000bn yuan in the funding available for the expansion strategy. Total investment required over the next 15 years is expected to average 130bn yuan per year, compared to the 54bn yuan currently being allocated by the government.

To fill the gap, the ministry's Vice-Director of Planning Zhang Jianping said in June that 'multiple investment entities including private and foreign capital' would be 'encouraged into the rail construction and operation sector on a market-oriented basis.' He suggested that some passenger lines could be set up as 'profitable self-contained companies' and be floated on the stock market.

For example, the Wuhan - Guangzhou line is being developed as a public-private partnership, with the China Railway Construction Investment Corp as the controlling shareholder. The Ministry of Railways will contribute 51%, with further shares allocated to the provinces of Guangdong, Hunan and Hebei in exchange for land. Around 24bn yuan of private funding will be raised from domestic and international investors.

Guangdong's stake is likely to be managed by the provincially-owned Guangdong Railway Construction Investment Group, which was founded on June 29 and expected to raise 120bn yuan by 2020. Wholly-owned by the provincial State Assets Supervision & Administration Commission, GRCI has powers to use existing assets as collateral for raising investment.

The provincial government is expected to provide 31·8bn yuan, or 26·5% of the total funding. The rest will be raised through bank loans, bonds, BOT projects and the sale of property rights, according to a commission spokesman. Under the long-term plan, the province expects to complete nine new lines and urban rail systems by 2020.

Another province which is expected to attract foreign investment for railway expansion projects is Shandong, which received government approval on June 14 to permit the transfer of railway assets to private ownership. The province has identified six lines serving the coal and oil sectors as suitable projects which could attract private funding totalling more than 5bn yuan.

Opening up the west

The long-range plan envisages construction of around 20000 km of new line to support regional and economic development, opening up western China and enhancing the existing network in the central and eastern regions.

During the 11th plan period, work will continue on many projects started in the 2000-05 plan (RG 5.02 p251). A high priority is completion of the 1142 km Golmud - Lhasa line to Tibet, where tracklaying is due to be finished by the end of this year. CR expects to start test running on the route in July 2006, and to commence revenue service at the beginning of 2007. A related project for capacity enhancement on the Xining - Golmud line was launched in September 2004 and should be completed in 2007.

Work is in full swing on the 1129 km east-west corridor between Nanjing and Xi'an. A start was made on the 260 km between Nanjing and Heifei in December 2004, with completion expected in 2007. Tracklaying on the 407 km between Xi'an and Nanyang was finished in June 2003, and last year the Asian Development Bank approved a US$2·8bn loan to help complete the project.

A PPP package is being put together for a 386 km heavy haul line from Pingliang to Xi'an which will feed coal traffic into this corridor. Work on the 4·9bn yuan project is expected to get underway next year, with the line scheduled to open in 2009.

An accord signed between the ministry and Sichuan province earlier this year includes a number of capacity expansion schemes, notably double-tracking of the mountainous Chengdu - Kunming line and improvements to the Daxian - Chengdu line. The recently-completed Suining - Chongqing line is also to be double-tracked as part of the emerging east-west corridor from Chengdu to Chongqing and Huaihua.

Earlier this year, the ministry applied for ADB funding to support a technical assistance package for construction of the 975 km Taiyuan - Zhongwei line, which will have 41 stations. Providing a direct east-west corridor linking Beijing with Zhongwei, the line will also relieve the heavily-used Longhai line between Zhengzhou and Lanzhou. It will be double-track east of Dingbian and single from there westwards. The project is being planned as a joint venture with equity participation from the Shaanxi, Shanxi, and Ningxia provincial governments.

Work is expected to start this year on a 1390 km cut-off across the north of Inner Mongolia and Gansu, providing a more direct route between Beijing and northwest China. The line will link Linhe on CR's Baotou - Zhongwei route with Hami on the Lanzhou - Urumqi corridor.

Work began in September 2004 on the 160 km Dunhuang Railway in Gansu, which is expected to open by the end of this year. Diverging from the Lanzhou - Urumqi line at Liuyuan near Qiaowan, it will serve Anxi and Dunhuang. In the longer term, this route could be pushed south to Golmud to create a new north-south corridor. From Golmud, another new line is being projected westwards across the Altur mountains and the Tarim Basin to meet the South Xinjiang Railway at Korla.

Following completion of the 205 km branch from Guangtong to Dali in Yunnan prvince last year, work began in November to push the rails further into the mountains. The 167 km extension to Lijiang at the heart of the Shangri-La tourist region is expected to open in 2008 at a cost of 4·5bn yuan. Planning is underway for a further extension to Deqen, close to the Tibetan border, which could form the start of a southern route to Lhasa. Another line is proposed to serve western Tibet, running from Lhasa to Zhongba before looping northwest through Yecheng to meet the lines being planned south of Kashi.

Nearer the south coast, completion of the 587 km Yongzhou - Yulin line will open up a direct link between Hunan province and the southern part of Guangxi.

International corridors

Growing trade between China and Europe is focusing attention on developing the international connections with the Central Asian republics.

At present, the primary corridor is the Lanxin route from Urumqi to Kazakhstan via the Alatau Pass and the Dzungarian Gate. Traffic on this route is constrained by the limited space for gauge-changing facilities at Dostyk, but the pressure should be eased in future once KTZ has completed double-tracking through the gorge and extended the standard gauge to a new gauge-changing facility at Aktogai (RG 8.04 p486).

Meanwhile, work started in November on a second route to the Kazakh border. Diverging from the Lanxin line at Jinghe, the 295 km branch will run west on the north side of the Tangshan range to Yining and the Korgas free-trade zone astride the border. With 220 bridges, 902 culverts, and 32 tunnels, the line is expected to take three years to complete at a cost of 6·2bn yuan. As yet there is no agreement to build a connecting railway on the Kazakh side, although Unescap and the Asian Development Bank have funded improvements to the road link between Korgas and Almaty.

Further west, multilateral talks are continuing with Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan over construction of the proposed Trans-Asian corridor from Kashi to Torugart and Jalal-Abad (7.03 p449).

Last year, Vice-Minister of Railways Hu Yadong announced that the government has started planning for a 760 km line running south from Kashi which would open the far west of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region before climbing through the Karakoram mountains to reach Peshawar in northern Pakistan. This extension would open up a new trade corridor leading to the deep-water container port which Pakistan is building at Gwadar with Chinese assistance.

Table I. Dedicated passenger routes

North-south lines:

Beijing - Jinan - Nanjing - Shanghai (350 km/h);

Beijing - Wuhan - Guangzhou - Shenzhen (350 km/h);

Beijing - Shenyang - Harbin / Dalian (250 km/h);

Hangzhou - Ningbo - Xiamen (200 km/h).

East-west lines:

Shanghai - Hangzhou - Changsha (250 km/h);

Xuzhou - Zhengzhou - Lanzhou (250 km/h);

Qingdao - Taiyuan (250 km/h);

Shanghai - Wuhan - Chengdu (200 km/h).

Regional networks:

Bohai: Beijing - Tianjin - Qinhuangdao;

Changjiang Yangtze Delta: Nanjing - Shanghai - Hangzhou;

Zhujiang Pearl River Delta: Shenzhen - Guangzhou - Zhuhai.

CAPTION: TOP:The introduction of DF11 class diesel locomotives and Type 25T coaches for 160 km/h operation enabled the speeding-up of passenger services on non-electrified routes

LEFT: Chinese Railways is looking to have around 50% of its network electrified by 2020. Four-aspect signals and cab signalling permit faster operation and improve line capacity

All photos:CARS/Dr Qian Lixin

CAPTION: For new and upgraded lines, CR has adopted international practice in CWR and improved designs of insulated block joints

CAPTION: The NZJ1 'New Dawn' (left) and NZJ2 'Divine Land' (right), double-deckDMUs are each formed of nine trailers and two 2 740 kW power cars, designed for 180 km/h operation

CAPTION: CR's Beiya diesel-hydraulic trainset features lightweight bodyshell construction and a streamlined profile

CAPTION: Two lightweight DMUs are being developed for 160 km/h operation, with distributed traction and axleloads of less than 18 tonnes. The Tangshan (left) uses an electric transmission, whilst the Jinlon (right) is a diesel-hydraulic

TABLE: Major projects in progress or proposed

New lines under construction

1. Ganzhou - Longyan 290 km

2. Hefei - Xi'an 954 km

3. Nanjing - Qidong 357 km

4. Golmud - Lhasa 1142 km

5. Guangzhou - Wuhan (P) 985 km

6. Lanzhou - Xining (P) 170 km

7. Shijiazhuang - Taiyuan (P) 189 km

8. Beijing - Tianjin (P) 115 km

9. Guangzhou - Zhuhai (P) 140 km

10. Nanjing - Hefei (P) 260 km

11. Zhangjiakou - Jining 177 km

12. Tongling - Jiujiang 251 km

13. Quzhou - Changshan (PFI) 45 km

14. Wenzhou - Fuzhou (P) 261 km

15. Dali - Lijiang 167 km

16. Jinghe - Korgas 296 km

17. Liuyuan - Dunhuang 170 km

18. Wanxian - Yichang 260 km

New lines proposed

19. Beijing - Shanghai (P) 1337 km

20. Shenzhen - Xiamen (P) 475 km

21. Shanghai - Hangzhou - Ningbo - Wenzhou (P) 550 km

22. Haikou - Sanya (Hainan) (P) 300 km

23. Nanjing - Shanghai (P) 295 km

24. Zhengzhou - Xi'an (P) 460 km

25. Dalian - Changchun (P) 700 km

26. Beijing - Wuhan (P) 1 200 km

27. Taiyuan - Zhongwei 975 km

28. Yongzhou - Wuzhou - Yulin 575 km

29. Linhe - Hami (Ulan Buh) 1390 km

30. Hohhot - Xuejiawan 116 km

31. Dalian - Suifenhe 1380 km

32. Hulin - Lesozavodsk (PFI) 56 km

33. Xi'an - Pingliang (PFI) 386 km

34. Dali - Shangri-La (Deqen) 350 km

35. Yuxi - Hekou 250 km

36. Yuxi - Mojiang 175 km

37. Kashi - Torugart (Kyrgyzstan) 135 km

38. Kashi - Peshawar (Pakistan) 760 km

Upgrading projects

39. Xining - Golmud 815 km

40. Beijing - Qinhuangdao (P) 298 km

41. Daxian - Chengdu 397 km


42. Jinan - Qingdao 392 km

43. Wuwei - Zhangyi 200 km

44. Shanghai - Hangzhou 202 km

45. Hangzhou - Zhuzhou 917 km

(33) Xi'an - Pingliang 386 km

(2) Xi'an - Nanyang 407 km


46. Guangzhou - Shenzhen (Q) 147 km

47. Baotou - Shenmu 220 km

48. Zhanyi - Kunming 146 km

49. Chengdu - Kunming 1 100 km

50. Chongqing - Suining 150 km

P =Dedicated passenger linePFI = Private finance initiativeQ = Quadrupling of existing double-track line

  • Note. This map does not include many of the localrailway projects being promoted by the individual provinces. For example, the Ministry of Railways has recently signed agreements with Shandong and Yunnanproviding for construction of several new lines by 2010

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