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Rail engineer: 'Eternal' new stations in the pipeline
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During the 2006-2010 period, China's Ministry of Railways plans to build or renovate 548 railway stations in China, some of which should be "eternal" – lasting for at least a century – an engineering official recently revealed.

The 21st Century Business Herald quoted Zheng Jian, associate chief engineer with the Ministry of Railways, who disclosed that 6 new hubs will very likely be based in transportation centers like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan, while two others will put Chengdu and Xi'an firmly on the transport map.

Many cities, including Hefei and Chongqing have competed for years for the status of regional hub.

With regard to Beijing, "This city of 10 million people had only two stations in the past, while other international centers like New York, Tokyo and London have at least six individual stations," said Zheng. The planned hubs will have an increased number of stations.

"Beijing's railway structure will be 'four main and two branches', meaning that four major stations – Beijing, Beijing South, Beijing West and Beijing North – will be established, with support from two smaller stations – Feng Tai and Beijing East," Zheng added. Beijing South will be the biggest station, with capacity for over 1 million passengers per day during peak periods, more than the total of Beijing and Beijing West together.

This is the first time Zheng has spoken about future plans for the rail network.

According to the plan, about 150 billion yuan will be invested in the new stations. In due course China will build six main nationwide hubs and 10 major regional hubs. There will be 25 provincial capital-level stations, 95 normal city-level stations, and 428 county-level stations.

"Twenty-eight stations have already been built, including Beijing South, Tianjin, and Qingdao, while 52 are undergoing construction, including new stations in Wuhan, Guangzhou, and Shanghai," said Zheng Jian.

Although 548 stations were planned for the 11th Five-year Plan period (2006-2010), some will be completed during the 12th Five-year Plan period (2011-2015). Current figures show that over 210 stations are still at the preparation stage.

Hoping that some of the new stations will be “eternal”, meaning in practical terms that they are expected to last for a century, the Ministry of Railways urged designers to do their best to produce spectacular pieces of architecture. Zheng said that in the past stations had tended to focus on the functional, ignoring how the public would feel about the buildings themselves. "Currently the network of stations is limited, the stations themselves are too small, due to the management system they cannot be easily integrated with other transport channels like subways and buses, few function well, equipment is outdated, and building designs are unattractive."

He said the new stations will follow the vision of Beijing South Station: to respond as well as possible to travelers' needs. "The key factors are functionality, systemization, cutting-edge thinking, cultural values and economic performance."

New stations should also be linked to subways, buses, taxis and other vehicles to provide convenient and comfortable service. "Environmental-protection and energy-saving factors will also be considered," he said.

But the last and the hardest part is the financial equation. About 7 billion yuan were invested in Beijing South Station, and 6-8 billion in Hangzhou East Station. The new Guangzhou Station will involve an investment of 13 billion yuan. How will revenues and profits match such enormous inputs?

According to Zheng, the Ministry of Railways strongly opposes blind investment in top quality stations. Local governments must balance the cost and the life expectancy of their building projects, and properly set scales and standards without lavishing money on frills.

Zheng also took Beijing South as an example to show how to save money on new station projects. Beijing South has adopted the most advanced energy-saving technology and uses solar-power generated electricity, offering annual savings of 6 million yuan in power usage.

Regarding the issue of return on the huge investments, Zheng said newly-built or renovated stations will adhere to proper economic procedures, and they will properly consider benefits and profits. But he also stated frankly that China's railway station network's role in public welfare and social need will prevent them from being completely open to private funding and management "The first priority needs to be the transportation issue," he added.

(China.org.cn by Keen Zhang September 6, 2008)

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