An aerial view of the new high-speed rail terminus in Urumqi, which will be operational by the end of this year. [Photo/Xinhua]
Set against the snowcapped Bogda Peak in the distance, construction cranes dot the skyline of Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. Workers are busy unloading piles of building materials from trucks, and the construction site for the city’s new high-speed rail terminus－which will be operational by the end of this year, and have a daily passenger flow of 115,000 by 2020－thumps and vibrates all day long.
A short distance from the site, 32 roads and 18 distribution ramps are being built to handle the rising number of visitors.
The new line will cut the journey time between Urumqi and Lanzhou, in the north-western province of Gansu, to 12 hours from more than 20. When a high-speed link is completed in 2017 Urumqi residents will be able to travel to Beijing by train in 16 hours instead of 40.
In addition to strengthening ties with the inland regions, Urumqi is also reaching out to the world outside China. At least two trains travel between Urumqi and Kazakhstan every week, according to Pan Xinxian, chief engineer of the Urumqi Railway Administration.
He said railways connecting the city with Central Europe will be the focus of future development and will complement the existing rail link to Duisburg in Germany.
Urumqi means “beautiful prairie” in old Mongolian. The name derives from the city’s important role as a hub on the ancient Silk Road during the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24). However, in modern times, its geographical isolation caused the city to gradually lose its luster.
Since the Silk Road Economic Belt was proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013, Urumqi has made efforts to seize the opportunities provided by the initiative, which is aimed at connecting markets in Asia and Europe and will cover more than 3 billion people.
The city’s crucial role in the blueprint was underlined earlier this year when Xinjiang was earmarked by the central government as the “core area” of the proposed project.
“The city will be built into a center for regional transportation, commercial logistics, financial services, culture, technology and medical services,” said Zhu Hailun, Party chief of Urumqi, who added that nurturing industries will be a key factor in boosting the city’s development. The municipal government recently decided to invest 720 billion yuan ($113 billion) to build industrial bases for the high-tech industry, services, tourism and trade.
To promote cooperation with other regions, Urumqi has held three annual forums for mayors of cities along the proposed route. The mayors of 28 cities across central and southern Asia, Russia and Eastern Europe attended this year’s meeting, along with the mayors of 50 Chinese cities.
“In terms of economic cooperation, we have adopted a strategy of ‘going out’ and ‘bringing in’,” Zhu said.
The city’s High-tech Industrial Zone, including the site of the new railway station, boasts more than 3,600 companies, including famous foreign names such as Coca Cola, SK Mobile and Carlsberg. Meanwhile, businesses from the city have invested $1.7 billion in neighboring countries, including Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.
Zhu said Urumqi will continue to play a significant role in the creation of the Silk Road Economic Belt. “We will make efforts to create a better environment, with higher living standards and favorable investment policies,” he said. “As the capital of Xinjiang, Urumqi should be a bellwether for the initiative’s core area.”