JUST 10 days after taking over as China’s Minister of Railways on March 18, Fu Zhihuan announced at a conference in Beijing that rail investment would be stepped up by 30% this year from 34·9bn to 45bn yuan. Spending on construction and upgrading over the next five years will be increased to 245bn yuan.

Between 1998 and 2002, the ministry envisages the construction of 5340 km of new line, double-tracking of 2580 km and electrification of 4400 route-km of existing lines. This will lift the length of the CR network from 66000 to over 70000 route-km.

Much of the investment will be channelled into the growing economic powerhouse in the southwest, where population increases are putting pressure on the existing routes. A total of 68bn yuan has been allocated to double the capacity of key routes in Sichuan, Guangxi, Yunnan and Chongqing provinces, including the new Xi’an - Ankang, Xi’an - Nanjing and Neijiang - Kunming corridors.

Another 38bn yuan is allocated for the network serving the Shanxi coalfield, including the planned heavy haul corridor from Suzhou to Huanghua. This will lift coal tonnages from 250 to 350 million tonnes a year. Construction of 20 new lines in the central and eastern regions will account for a further 65bn yuan, including the Qinhuangdao - Shenyang passenger route, the Shenmu - Yan’an line and the rail/train ferry link between Guangdong and Hainan.

Priority is also being given to improving the technical standards of equipment on the existing main lines to boost speed and capacity at an anticipated cost of 43bn yuan. The minister expects that work will get under way on the long-planned Beijing - Shanghai high speed line by the end of 2000. o