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Passenger turnover trails off the rails

06-01-2011 15:53 BJT

The length of China's railway network soared from 49,900 km in 1980 to 91,000 km by the end of 2010, making it the world's second longest. Its passenger and cargo transport facilities have also ranked among the top. Despite the railway's growth, its role in the nation's economic development is trailing off compared to other transport means.

In 1980, the proportion of passengers carried by railways was 60 percent. It dropped to only 31 percent by the end of 2010. In contrast, roads are playing a bigger role in passenger transport, with the proportion rising from 32 percent in 1980 to 54 percent last year.

It is understandable for the railway's market share to drop as China has carried out large-scale road construction and developed the automotive industry. But the problem is that the market share has dropped too fast, making China's transport structure unbalanced.

The railway, as an energy-saving and environmentally friendly transport means, should have a higher share in the country's transport structure. Even in the US, a country with the most developed highway system, the proportion of freight transport by train is twice that of China's.

In Shanxi province and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, about 100 million tons of coal are transported out by trucks each year respectively. Train is the most efficient way to transport cargo such as coal, but now we use trucks and burn a lot of petroleum in the process.

The Ministry of Railways' combined role of government function and enterprise management is to be partly blamed. For years, the ministry has been resisting a thorough reform, which could bring a different result. The Ministry of Transport, in contrast, accepted reforms and has boosted road and water transport greatly.

Although the Ministry of Railways went on an unprecedented railway construction in the past five years to reverse the declining trend, it did not make much difference.

Between 2006 and 2010, China invested 1.98 trillion yuan ($305 billion) on railway infrastructure, or 6.3 times that in the previous five years. But statistics show a decline of the railways' share in passengers.

This situation is directly caused by a development mode that costs billions of yuan to construct high-speed passenger railways. But the high construction and operation cost, and high ticket prices have led to a lower usage rate on the high-speed rail lines.

At the same time, because technical standards vary between high-speed lines and conventional lines, old-style passenger trains cannot run on the high-speed lines. Therefore, the capacity of existing parallel cargo lines will not benefit from the expansion of high-speed railways, so the operating losses of the Ministry of Railways could increase further.

Editor:Wang Xiaomei |Source: China Daily

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