China to double high-speed rail by 2012

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China will spend 800 billion yuan (US$120 billion) as part of an ambitious plan to double its high-speed rail network by 2012, the Ministry of Railways said on Wednesday.

Maintenance workers clean and examine a bullet train at a servicing facility on March 3 in Wuhan, Hubei province.

The sum will be invested to lay more than 6,000 km of new high-speed tracks across the country, pushing the total length of high-speed railways to 13,000 km by 2012, Yu Bangli, chief economist with the Ministry of Railways, said at a press conference.

China is now home to more high-speed rail lines - 6,920 km long for trains running at 200 to 350 km per hour - than any other country in the world.

Yu dismissed concerns that the massive spending spree will push the ministry's debt-to-assets ratio to 70 percent in 2012 from its current 55 percent, as a report by China's Minsheng Bank this week has suggested.

"I can tell you that our balance sheet is very good," Yu said, without providing a debt figure.

He Huawu, the ministry's chief engineer, said that China will set a new record by running trains at 380 km per hour on the Beijing-Shanghai link, which scheduled for completion before 2012. The 380 km-per-hour train is self-developed based on imported tech platform.

He also said that under no circumstances did China "force" foreign companies to transfer their high-speed technologies to China.

Instead, China has made its contribution by innovating and improving on the technologies, he said.

With 946 patents on its high-speed railway, moreover, China now wants to export its own high-speed technology, and many countries - including the United States, Russia, Brazil and Saudi Arabia - have expressed interest.

According to Zheng Jian, the ministry's chief planner, China's advantages lie in two areas. "We have mastered a full set of technologies, and have the advantage in construction time and cost," he said.

China's main competitors include Germany, France and Japan. The operating speed in France is 320 km per hour, while that in Germany and Japan is 300 km per hour.

To answer outside questions about the reliability and stability of China's technology, He Huawu said that the country's high-speed rail lines are operating well.

"The equipment, from trains to tracks, from signal systems to power supply systems, have all been stable and reliable", He Huawu said, adding that no casualties have resulted from China's high-speed rail system.

In its latest effort to expand China's influence, the ministry plans to sponsor the world's high-speed rail congress in Beijing between Dec 7 and 9 with the organizer International Union of Railways.

More than 1,500 experts, government officials and companies are expected to attend the congress in its first non-European venue, He Huawu said.

The ministry's transport bureau chief Li Jun also told the press conference that the ministry is updating the ticketing system to allow passengers book tickets online in near future.

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