(Kazinform) - China has embarked on the biggest railway expansion the world has seen. Passengers say it is not before time.
China already has 46,600 miles (75,000km) of track, more than any other Asian country. But that is far from enough to meet demand for passengers and freight; KAZINFORM quotes Jane Macartney in Beijing (The Times).
The Ministry of Railways has set out ambitious plans to end the bottlenecks. About 6,000 miles of track will be added by 2010 (the equivalent of almost 60 per cent of the existing British network) and the rail network will be extended to a total of 60,000 miles by 2020, reports Trend.
The plans will be greeted enthusiastically by millions of passengers accustomed to travelling vast distances in conditions of near-squalor if they are lucky to secure a ticket.
Yu Mei wanted to escape the Beijing summer heat for a holiday at Hulun Lake in Inner Mongolia, on the border with Russia. But train tickets to this remote, cool corner of China were booked solid into August and now she is waiting for a seat to become available.
It may be difficult to come by tickets in the summer but train travel during the three main holiday Golden Weeks Chinese new year, the first week of May and the week-long National Day holiday around October 1 is virtually impossible.
Authorities lay on extra trains and allow as many people on to a train as will fit. This means travelling standing room only for dozens of hours with corridors, dining cars and the toilets crammed to capacity. Adult nappies have become a popular commodity among the tens of millions who cannot afford an air ticket. One traveller said: I make sure I dont eat or drink for several hours before I get on the train because I know theres no way to get to the toilet.
Railway authorities lay on extra trains or divert line use to cope with the peaks in holiday or freight demand. More than 100,000 freight cars a day chug along Chinas railways. But there is demand for 280,000, and the railways can meet only 35 per cent of it. Huang Min, director of the development and planning department at the ministry, said: The speed of the development of the railways is slower than the growth of the economy.
John Scales, senior transport specialist with the World Bank in Beijing, said: Historically, this is the only country that has ever attempted such an increase.
But funding is a headache. China needs two trillion yuan (143 billion pounds) by 2020 to reach its goal but has enough to fund only half that. And so one of Chinas core monopoly industries is turning to the private sector.
A loss-making line in southern Guangdong province is to be auctioned. The Daqin Railway, a west-east coal artery, sold shares last week to double capacity to 400 million tonnes a year by 2010.