CHINA: 'When roads reach capacity, rail becomes the cheapest and fastest solution’, believes Ma Xiangming, Chief Engineer at the Guangdong Urban & Rural Planning & Design Institute, adding that the current lack of railway capacity risks holding back economic development in the Pearl River Delta.

Chinese Railways has already quadrupled much of the Guangzhou – Shenzhen line. Construction teams are hard at work on new metro lines and inter-urban express routes radi­ating from Guangzhou to Foshan, Zhangshan and Zhuhai, as well as the 300 km/h passenger-dedicated line heading north to Wuhan and the recently-approved Express Rail Link to Shenzhen and Kowloon. Now more projects are on the cards, bringing in Hong Kong and Macau plus a host of smaller cities.

Rail expansion forms an integral part of the regional development strategy that has made the Pearl River Delta one of China’s economic powerhouses, along with the Yangtze River Delta around Shanghai and the Bohai zone embracing Beijing, Tianjin and Qinhuangdao.

Expanding the provincial rail network to more than 2 000 km is a key objective in a wide-ranging blueprint unveiled by the Guangdong Conditions Research Centre in July. Whereas the last strategic plan launched in 2001 envisaged a 600 km network linking nine cities by 2010, the official think-tank now believes that the network should be trebled to serve 13 cities across the region.

As well as linking the eight growing satellite cities around Guangzhou, routes would reach Qingyuan in the north, Zhaoqing in the west, Enping and Taishan in the southwest and Hui­zhou and Huidong in the east.

With the residents of Shenzhen now earning on average 63 times as much as their counterparts in Guangdong’s rural areas, the province hopes the rail network will encourage economic development and narrow the wealth gap. GCRC Director Feng Shengping says it will allow entrepreneurs from the major centres 'to enjoy the cheap labour and land available in rising manufacturing hubs in rural Guangdong when transport is no longer a problem.’