Travelling around China, one cannot fail to be impressed by the sheer
scale and speed at which development is taking place both on the
railway and with the metros in the major cities. As we report this
month, China will soon have the world's largest high-speed rail network
reaching 16,000km by 2020, and its conventional network is still
expanding at an incredible rate.
Underground, the expansion is no less
impressive. By the end of 2007, there were 714km of metro lines in 10
cities, but by 2015 this will have grown to 2447km in 15 cities. This
represents a massive investment of Yuan 6234.6 billion ($US 913
An interesting point to note is that Chinese metro
construction engineers have been able to reduce construction costs from
Yuan 700 million/km in the early 1990s to Yuan 500 million/km by the
end of the decade. Construction costs for light rail projects have been
halved to Yuan 200 million/km.
A visit to the Daqin heavy-haul line
demonstrated how the combination of railway expertise and new
technology has been deployed to good effect in a major upgrade of the
line which is now the world's busiest heavy-haul railway, carrying 340
million tonnes a year.
But it is also the quality of the work that
impresses. Given the speed at which lines are being upgraded and built,
it would be all too easy to sacrifice quality of workmanship. But this
is clearly not the case. The ride quality was excellent during a trip
on one of the new high-speed overnight trains from Shanghai to Beijing.
The train was spotlessly clean, and the staff could not have been more
Staff clearly take great pride in their railway, and can often
be seen cleaning the trains before passengers board. They are also
extremely well turned out. Train crew and other operating staff follow
Japanese practices. For example, drivers point to signals and announce
the aspect to ensure that they have noted what they have seen, and the
information is recorded. On the very busy Beijing - Shanghai line, for
example, 200km/h passenger trains are grouped to run at 5 or 10-minute
intervals to maximise capacity. This combination of strict discipline
and innovative operating practices clearly works, as Chinese Railways
has very high levels of punctuality.
China's massive railway expansion
programme will equip the nation with a very modern and efficient
network which in turn will help to fuel the country's rapid
industrialisation and almost unstoppable economic growth. But the work
also acts as a huge training ground for Chinese railway engineers.
we report this month, China Railway Construction Corporation has won
construction and electrification contracts in Algeria, and is the main
contractor and systems integrator for the new metro in Mecca, Saudi
Arabia. It is also building a large part of the new railway in Libya.
Expect to see Chinese companies winning more civil works and
infrastructure contracts in the future, especially when expansion at
home starts to slow.
There has been a huge influx of foreign technology
and expertise into China largely through joint ventures. In some cases,
particularly for locomotives and rolling stock, this has involved not
only the transfer of technology but also intellectual property rights.
While many Chinese railway equipment suppliers are content to
concentrate on their huge domestic market, at least while the expansion
continues, some of the larger companies are putting this new expertise
to good effect to develop new products and win significant export
orders. Mr Zheng Jian, chief planning officer with the Ministry of
Railways, told heavy-haul delegates in Shanghai, that China plans to
develop its own brand of 350km/h emu. This could make China a contender
in the growing high-speed train market.
CNR, one of China's two large
rolling stock manufacturers, is starting to have some important export
successes. It is supplying 626 double-deck bodyshells plus bogies for a
new fleet of trains for Sydney, and has won contracts to supply trains
to SuperVia in Rio de Janeiro and the new Mecca metro in Saudi Arabia.
CNR signed a $HK 1.1 billion ($US 142 million) contract with MTR in
Hong Kong last December for 10 eight-car trains for the West Island
Line. As Mr Yang Xiong-Jing, project manager, with CNR, told me: if you
can build trains which meet MTR's exacting standards, then you can
supply trains to anyone.