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China Gears Up for More High-speed Railways

China is gearing up for the opening of a series of high-speed railways throughout the country as it expands the infrastructure and trains drivers to speed up the service.

Vice-Minister of Railways Hu Yadong told reporters on Sunday that express trains with a speed of 200 kilometres per hour are expected to start running next year, while those with a speed of 300 kilometres an hour will be used on parts of the nation's railway lines.

Such an ambitious plan is supported by the introduction of 60 high-speed railways from the Germany-based Siemens Transportation Systems of Siemens AG. A contract worth 669 million Euros (US$785 million) was signed in Berlin during a state visit to Germany by President Hu Jintao a week ago.

The trains are to be used initially on the Beijing-Tianjin route beginning 2008 and extended to other high-speed routes later on, according to a press release on the website of the German company.

The trains have a total length of 200 metres and can hold more than 600 passengers.

Insiders consider the agreement as an initial victory for the German company's attempted dominance over its French rival Alstone and Japan's Shinkansen in competing for the vast rail market.

According to the ministry's programme, China will build 10,000 kilometres of new passenger railways and 2,000 kilometres of high-speed railways by 2020.

Although the ministry is slow in unveiling the construction plan of the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway, competition for the huge project is becoming increasingly intense among Japan's Shinkansen, France's TGV and Germany's ICE - high-speed trains considered to have the most advanced high-speed rail technology available in the world.

The railway, reported to measure more than 1,300 kilometres in length, involves a 100 billion-yuan (US$12 billion) investment, seen as the second largest project after the Three Gorges Project in terms of investment.

While building more rail tracks and trains, the Ministry of Railways has also sent technicians abroad to study driving techniques for high-speed trains, in efforts to increase their speed for the sixth time.

Sixty-two train drivers aged 28 to 41 have been selected from among the seven local rail administrations.

The nation's latest railway speed increase was launched on April 18 last year, with the speed on major lines raised to 160 kilometres per hour.

(China Daily November 22, 2005)

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