20 Cities Queue up for Subways

China will speed up construction of subway and light rail in its large cities during the 10th Five-Year Plan (2001-05).

``The country will encourage large cities with population of more than 1 million to build subways,'' said Lan Rong, an official with the Ministry of Construction.

During the first half of this year, the State Development Planning Commission approved construction of a 38-kilometre third subway in Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong Province, and the line 1 of the Tianjin subway, expecting to increase the city's original 7.4 kilometer subway to more than 26 kilometer.

Last year, the commission approved construction of eight new subways including the first phase of the Shenzhen metro project and the Nanjing subway line, Lan said.

As many as 20 other cities out of the country's 40 with population of more than 1 million are considering constructing subways or light railways to offset the increasing transportation pressure, she said.

Reliable sources said that a total 450-kilometer of urban rail lines with an estimated investment of 140 billion yuan (US$16.8 billion) would be built in the next five years.

At present, only five cities -- Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tianjin and Hong Kong operate subways or light rails with a total length of 193.4 kilometers.

Experts noted that developing rail transportation was a fundamental way for China's 40 large cities to solve transportation hurdles.

``The merits of urban and suburban rail transportation have been recognized in more than 130 countries and regions in the world,'' they said. ``Subways and light rail are preferable choice for large cities.''

An earlier report said that railways in Tokyo take 87 percent of total passenger flow. The figure in London and New York is about 60 percent.

By comparison, only 15 percent of passengers in Beijing use its subway system.

However, not all cities can realize their dreams of easy traffic flow. Before digging tunnels and building viaducts, they have to consider whether they can afford the cost.

``Investment in urban rail systems is huge, and it takes a long time before any profit could be made,'' said Li Xiaojiang, deputy-director of the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design.

One kilometer of a subway line costs an average of 700 million yuan (US$84.3 million), Li said.

Aware that imported equipment usually accounts for a considerable proportion of the expenditure, the State has required that 70 percent of equipment used for new urban railway lines be domestically made.

It is estimated that the cost of one kilometer of subway will be reduced to 450 million yuan (US$54.2 million) from the current 700 million yuan (US$84.3 million).

Domestic technology and equipment proved to be trustworthy in the construction of China's first subway line in Beijing.

(People's Daily 07/03/2001)