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Development of urban rail transit speeds up in China
Last Updated(Beijing Time):2004-05-09 10:43

By Xin Wen

With the development of urban rail transit, on the one hand, it is promoting the process of urban modernization, alleviating congested traffic in cities, and narrowing the distance between time and space. On the other hand, it changes the way people travel, accelerates the pace of their life and work, and affects the quality of life. กก
The state of urban rail transit reflects a country's comprehensive strength and is a symbol of a city's modernization level. At present, rail transit system is available in 135 cities in nearly 40 countries and regions. In cosmopolitan cities, accounting for a proportion of 60 per cent - 80 per cent, rail transit has become the leading means of transportation in these cities. Yet so far, in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Guangzhou, etc., rail transit accounts for less than 10 per cent in the cities' total traffic capacity.

Urban rail transit offers comprehensive advantages, like small land occupation, large traffic volume, high speed, non-pollution, low energy consumption, high safety and great comfort. With most facilities being installed underground and the operation going on underground, subways require very limited occupation of land, and do not compete with other means of transportation for space. Urban light rail, trolley bus as well as suburban rail and magnetic suspension train are basically railways, which makes it possible to make the most of land resources.

Urban rail transit system offers immense transport capacity. During rush hours, the maximum unidirectional transport capacity may reach up to 60, 000- 80, 000 person-times per hour, which is unmatchable to other means of transportation. The hourly traveling speed of rail transit generally exceeds 70 kilometers-100 kilometers, offering high punctuality. Moreover, mostly being hauled by electric locomotives, rail transit requires low energy consumption, and it causes little pollution to cities. Therefore, it is called "green transportation".

From a macro perspective, urban rail transit plays an important role in improving the structure of urban transport, alleviating urban ground traffic congestion, and promoting the utilization efficiency of urban land.

Nevertheless, compared with other means of transportation, rail transit has some drawbacks, like long construction cycle, heavy initial investment, slow withdrawal of funds and poor economic benefits in operation. For example, currently the building of subway costs some RMB500 million-700 million per kilometer; urban light rail and magnetic suspension train, RMB200 million-300 million; trolley bus and suburban rail, about RMB100 million.

In China, rail transit dates back to the late 1960s, when the first subway was built in Beijing. That was nearly one century later than developed countries in the West. However, since it made its debut, urban rail transit has helped ease the immense pressure caused by urban traffic congestion and brought great convenience and comfort to passengers. Take Beijing for example. Currently, subways provide a transport volume of approximately 1.5 million person-times per day. Without subways, the traffic congestion in this city would simply be inconceivable.

At present, rail transit has evolved from the startup stage to a period of stable, sustainable and orderly development in this country. In China (excluding Hong Kong and Taiwan), the length of subways completed totals 193 kilometers; project urban rail under construction, 334 kilometers; planned urban rail, 420 kilometers. Among big cities with a population of over 2 million, those that already have or are building urban rail transit include Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Dalian, Shenzhen, Wuhan, Nanjing, Chongqing and Changchun. Now, seven cities have announced or are still working on their plan to build rail transit: Chengdu, Hangzhou, Shenyang, Xi'an, Harbin, Qingdao and Suzhou.

According to plan, by 2008, there will be thirteen rail transit lines and two spur lines in Beijing, with a total length of 408.2 kilometers. In Shanghai, there will be 21 rail transit lines, totaling more than 500 kilometers in length. During the Tenth Five-Year Plan period, the total length will hit 780 kilometers. In Tianjin, there will be four subway lines, totaling 106 kilometers. That, coupled with 50 kilometers of suburban light rail and one loop subway 71-kilometers set aside, will bring the total length to 227 kilometers. Meanwhile, there will be seven rail transit lines totaling 206.48 kilometers in Guangzhou, and seven rail transit lines totaling 263.1 kilometers in Nanjing. With other cities' planning taken into account, the total length of rail transit lines will come to some 2, 200 kilometers in this country.

At present, the constraints to the development of rail transit in China mainly lie in three aspects:

First, there is severe shortage of construction funds. According to the foregoing planning, it is necessary to invest in approximately RMB300 billion. Projects to be completed by 2006 alone require more than RMB150 billion. Furthermore, in most cases, funds come from investments of the central and local governments as well as bank loans. Still a developing country as it is, China has very limited financial strength.
Second, as rail transit is demanding on technical standard, some key technical facilities at low ratio of home mading at present largely rely on imports. Thus, construction cost remains high due to the import of large quantity of technology and equipment.

Third, in most cases, rail transit operates at a loss in China. That aggregates the central and local governments' financial burdens, which, in return, checks the development of rail transit to some extent.
For this reason, China formulated the guideline of " doing what the strength allows, implementing rules-based management and pursuing stable development". In the development of rail transit, it is required that homemade equipment should take up at least 70 per cent. Meanwhile, it is essential to ensure that development of rail transit suits the pace of economic development in the cities and prevent blind development and irrational attempts to advance forward. 
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