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High-speed rail: New Silk Road

Source:   Time:

  BEIJING, March 12 -- Less than two years after China's first high-speed railway went into operation, the country is now planning to extend its rail network beyond its borders, a project that will involve 17 nations, a Ministry of Railways spokesman confirmed to the Global Times Thursday.

  The international rail network will boost the exchange of trade and promote China's newly acquired high-speed railway technology, likely the next brand of "Made in China" comparable to world competitors, experts say.

  Initial negotiations with some countries are already underway, the spokesman said, without disclosing what progress had been made or details of the routes.

  The information was first revealed by Wang Mengshu, a professor at Beijing Jiaotong University and a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, who said Sunday that China plans to construct a high-speed railway system that will travel across Asia and Europe by 2025.

  Wang told the Global Times yesterday that China began construction of the domestic part of one route, which will travel across Southeast Asia, several years ago. The line starts in Kunming in Yunnan Province and runs south, as far as Singapore. Negotiations with parties in Myanmar and Singapore have gone smoothly he said.

  According to Wang, a second route will start in Urumqi, the capital of the XinjiangUyghur Autonomous Region, and connect Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan with Germany. A third line will connect the city of Heilongjiang in northern China with Eastern and Southern European countries via Russia.

  "Progress on the first route has been faster than the other two," Wang said. "Many problems such as discrepancies in track gauge, line direction and expense allocations are under discussion with the related countries."

  Lu Huapu, director of the Communication Research Institute at Tsinghua University, said the project is part of the Pan-Asian railways network, a plan proposed in 2006 that is expected to connect 28 countries with 81,000 kilometers of railways.

  "The construction of the network requires a huge coordination effort among countries with big development gaps and must overcome difficulties in terms of discrepancies and technical standards," Lu said.

  China will obtain major benefits from the project, which will carry mostly cargo transportation. "The second route will serve as a new "Silk Road" for China's western regions," Wang said. "Industries, businesses and issues of environmental protection are built on growing transport networks."

  "It will also be more convenient for us to tap into natural resources, especially oil and gas, in Myanmar, Iran and Russia if the system is completed," Wang said, adding that some parts of the project can be financed by a proposed "resourc-es-for-technology" agreement.

  Technology edge

  China began purchasing high-speed rail technology in 2004 from France, Japan, Can-ada and Germany.

  Six years later, China has developed its own high-speed rail systems, which run at over 350 kilometers per hour.

  The high-speed rail line between Beijing and Tianjin, which started service in August 2008, was the first such train in China.

  The Wuhan-Guangzhou high-speed railway came into use late last year. It runs 990 kilometers between the Central China city and the booming industrial hub in the south, reducing the standard 12-hour-long trip to only three hours.

  These are just two of 42 high-speed lines projected for completion in the country by 2012.

  "For China, high-speed railways are both necessary and affordable," Lu said. "Its fast development is boosted by the country's domestic demand, stable financing and a sustain-ability-oriented development mode.

  "The country's urbanization process offered opportunities for the massive construction of railway networks," he said, adding that a network of high-speed railways would dramatically "shrink" the country.

  According to the plan proposed by the railways ministry, the country's total railway coverage will be more than 110,000 kilometers by 2012, with 13,000 kilometers being high-speed railway, forming the world's largest high-speed railway network.

  Wang expects that China may spearhead a new global wave of railway development, and with that the ability to grab a big share of international markets with its cutting-edge safe technologies and low construction costs that will compete with the pioneers in the field, Japan and Germany.

  "India would be our top target market in the future. And we are currently negotiating with the US, Russia and Poland," Wang said. "High-speed railways will become another brand of Made-in-China."

  Japan, which first implemented a high-speed railway in 1964, has expressed concern that it wasted its chance to be a dominant player in the market.

  Although Japanese railway technology is "one of the best in the world, it has failed to find its way into overseas markets," said an editorial in Japan's The Asahi Shimbun on February 1.

  "The technology was so bent on Japanese standards that it developed in a very insular way. The rail industry has been very inward-looking," it said.

  (Source: Global Times)

  

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