Railroads of China
by Cathy Richey
Railroads are the major mode of transportation in
China. Carrying some 24 percent of the world’s railroad transportation
volume, China’s railroads are critical to both the Chinese economy and
that of the world.
But the rail system, which is controlled by the Ministry of Railways through a
network of regional divisions, operates on a tight budget due to limited
capital. It's also facing overburdened infrastructure and the need to continually
Foreign capital investment in the freight sector was
allowed beginning in 2003. In another move to better capitalize and reform
the railroad system, the Ministry of Railways established three public
shareholder-owned companies in 2003: China Railways Container Transport
Company, China Railway Special Cargo Service Company, and China Railways
Parcel Express Company.
The national rail system is modernizing and expanding
rapidly. It's efficient within the limits of the available track. Some
71,898 kilometers of track were operational in 2002. This total included
71, 898 kilometers of 1.435-meter gauge (18,115 kilometers of which were
electrified) and 3,600 kilometers of 1.000-meter and 0.750-meter gauge
local industrial lines.
There were an additional 23,945 kilometers of
dual-gauge track not included in the total. As of 2002, some 23,058
kilometers of the railroad routes were double tracked, representing 38.7
percent of the total. In 2004 China’s railroad inventory included 15,456
locomotives owned by the national railroad system.
Until very recently, the inventory included about 100 steam
locomotives. But the last such locomotive, built in 1999, is now in
service as a tourist attraction while the others have been retired from
commercial service. The remaining locomotives are either diesel- or
electric- powered. Another 352 locomotives are owned by local railroads
and 604 operated by joint venture railroads. National railroad freight
cars numbered 520,101 and passenger coaches 39,766. In 2003 China’s
railroads carried 2.2 trillion tons of freight and 478.9 trillion
passenger/kilometers. Only India had more passenger/kilometers and the
United States more net ton/kilometers than China.
In October 2005, China completed a new section of the
Qinghai-Tibet Railway, a 1,142- kilometer-long section between Golmud
and Lhasa. The 1,956 kilometer-long line, which began construction in
1984, will link the rest of China with Tibet via a hub at Xining in
Qinghai Province. Native Tibetans aren't pleased with this, as it further
destroys the foundation of their culture. However, the area has been flooded
with so many relocated Chinese that most inhabitants of this conquered nation
welcome this development.
Another large-scale railroad project is the New Silk
Road or Eurasian Continental Bridge project that was launched in 1992.
In China the project involves the modernization and infrastructure
development of a 4,131-kilometer-long railroad route starting in
Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province, and traveling through central and
northwestern China to Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, to the Alataw Pass into Kazakhstan.
From that point, the railroad links to some 6,800
kilometers of routes that end in Rotterdam. China also has established
rail links between seaports and interior export-processing zones. For
example, in 2004 Chengdu in Sichuan Province was linked to the Shenzhen
Special Economic Zone in coastal Guangdong; exports clear customs in
Chengdu and are shipped twice daily by rail to the seaport at Shenzhen
for fast delivery.
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