PROMINENT AMONG the headline projects in Chinese Railways’ 2001-05 five-year plan is construction of the 1300 km Beijing - Shanghai high speed line, although a choice between maglev and steel wheel technology has still to be made (RG 1.01 p19). While this 100bn yuan scheme may attract most publicity, many other projects are destined to expand the 68000 route-km CR network and enhance capacity. Bonds are likely to be issued to help fund construction.

Minister of Railways Fu Zhihuan announced at the National Railways Conference in Beijing on December 22 that 55bn yuan is to be allocated to construction projects this year. As much as 100bn yuan will be spent by 2005 on lines in western China in the next five years, adding 2000 route-km to the network.

Most recent addition in western China is the 267 km Xi’an - Ankang line in Shaanxi province that opened to traffic on January 8. This single-track route electrified at 25 kV 50Hz is a cut-off of major importance that opens up a fifth north-south artery, allowing congestion on other routes such as Baoji - Chengdu to be eased. Built to handle up to 20 million tonnes of freight a year with more envisaged when the route is doubled, the project was started in 1996, and funding included loans from Japan.

A start was made in December on construction of the 625 km Chongqing - Huaihua east-west trunk line in southwest China, with 2006 set as the target date for completion; cost is 20bn yuan.

A far greater challenge awaits the construction teams. Plans were submitted to the cabinet at the end of last year for the long-planned railway through the Himalayas to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. Four routes are being considered, with a final decision due in March. The Ministry of Railways favours a route from Golmud, terminus of the line from Lanzhou, while another proposal envisages a route from Dali, west of Kunming, through Weixi, Rawu and Qabag (RG 10.98 p629). The project will require special technology to cope with frozen ground encountered at heights of over 4000m above sea level. Other difficulties may include opposition from human rights campaigners who argue that the line will allow Chinese military forces to be moved rapidly into the region, although they admit that Tibetans may benefit too. The ministry expects the line to be open within seven years.

Pressure is on to develop rolling stock technology, and this is progressing rapidly, partly with the help of joint ventures involving suppliers from outside China. Local expertise is advancing too, and Puzhen Rolling Stock Works is developing passenger stock able to run at up to 250 km/h on the Qinhuangdao - Shenyang high speed line being built in Liaoning province.

Another domestic design, the Blue Arrow high speed train developed by Zhuzhou Locomotive Works (RG 10.00 p626), entered trial service between Guangzhou and Shenzhen at up to 200 km/h on January 8. n