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Intl arrival for China’s trains

Updated: Nov 10,2014 7:02 AM     China Daily

Light rail built by China Railway Construction Corp helps in the annual Mecca pilgrimage.[Photo/Xinhua]

With the most extensive high-speed network, gaze shifts to overseas markets

In Asia, Africa, Australia and Europe, Premier Li Keqiang has been telling government leaders, railway planners and company executives that China’s high-speed railway technologies are safe, reliable and economically competitive.

Largely due to his persistent promotion, Chinese enterprises have been selected to take part in the construction of a high-speed rail line between Belgrade, Serbia, and Budapest, Hungary, and a modern route to link Mombasa and Nairobi in Kenya. A high-speed railway research and development center will also be set up in Africa.

In September, Li and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev signed an agreement in Moscow that urges Chinese and Russian firms to hold talks on design, financing, supply facilities and construction for a 770-km high-speed line connecting Moscow and Kazan, an important metropolis on the Volga River.

Under Russia’s plan, the line will form the initial section of a railway stretching to Beijing, with completion scheduled for 2018 in time for the World Cup soccer finals in Russia. Kazan is one of the host cities.

Trains running on the line will reach speeds of up to 400 km/h, shortening the traveling time between the two cities from 13 hours to three and a half, according to the Moscow Times newspaper.

“China has a lot of advanced technologies and experience in railway construction and operation, and its government is willing to export them, while Russia wants to improve rail service and upgrade infrastructure, so the two can work together in this field,” said Yang Hao, a professor at Beijing Jiaotong University who researches rail transport management.

China has also included three rail lines in its medium and long-term plans that will link the country to Southeast Asian nations. Engineers have started preliminary work on the network, according to sources close to China Railway Corp, successor of the dissolved Ministry of Railways.

The lines would start in Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, and connect Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. They form the southern part of the ambitious Trans-Asian Railway proposed in the 1960s, which finally took a step toward realization after 18 countries signed an agreement on the network in 2006.

The huge network aims to provide a continuous 14,000-kilometer rail link between Singapore and Istanbul in Turkey, with possible onward connections to Europe and Africa, according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

Looking to the West

With their technological and engineering capabilities advancing rapidly, Chinese railway enterprises have gradually found that projects in developing nations can no longer satiate their growing ambitions. They have begun to knock on the doors of developed countries that once looked down on Chinese railway technology.

During a visit to California last week, a delegation of Chinese officials and representatives of Chinese high-speed railway companies discussed the possibility of participation in California’s high-speed rail, said professor Sun Zhang, a railway researcher at Tongji University in Shanghai.

“We want to learn about the high-speed rail policies and the investment environment in California, and introduce Chinese high-speed rail products and technology to our Californian friends,” said Zhang Yujing, president of the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Machinery and Electronic Products and head of the delegation. “By doing so, we want to further discussions to create better business opportunities.”

For his part, Jeff Morales, CEO of the California Rail Authority, said: “We are very impressed by China’s great progress and leadership in high-speed rail”.

“China has built 7,000 miles of high-speed rail, the US has built zero, but we will change that. California will be the first high-speed rail system in the US,” said Morales.

CNR Corp and CSR Corp, China’s two biggest train makers, made expressions of interest in late October to provide trains for California’s $68 billion high-speed rail project, the first in the US.

In the United Kingdom, Chinese enterprises are negotiating with British partners on the possible collaboration in local high-speed railway projects, according to Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming.

‘Stars are aligned’

Wang Mengshu, a tunnel and railway expert at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said China has rich expertise and experience in designing, building and operating a high-speed rail network so the nation should be an ideal option for any country that wants high-speed rail lines.

China is the only nation in the world that has carried out large and complicated railway projects over the past decade, and some have been in harsh environments such as the high-altitude Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and in bitterly cold Northeast China, testifying to the country’s strong capability in this field, he said.

In addition, China uses a flexible approach toward funding cooperative programs, Wang added, explaining that foreign nations with financial difficulties are encouraged to repay their share of the investment with local resources.

Zhao Jian, a professor of Beijing Jiaotong University who specializes in China’s railway system, told Shanghai’s Oriental Morning Post that China has excess production capacity in the railway sector so the government and industry should strive to strengthen exports of rail technology and projects to boost the sector.

The previous success of Chinese railway companies will help them ink contracts for high-speed railway projects in the US and Brazil in the near future, according to Feng Hao, a transportation researcher with China’s National Development and Reform Commission.

By the end of 2013, China had a high-speed rail network of more than 10,000 km, far exceeding any other country and larger than the network in the entire European Union, the World Bank said in a July report.

And it has been built at a cost at least one-third lower than in other countries, said the report.