Hailed railway victim of USSR breakup

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 April, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 April, 1993, 12:00am

THE disintegration of the Soviet Union has caused a suspension of railway services by the epoch-making Eurasia Continental Railway for more than two years, according to Chinese officials.

The transcontinental rail link, which connected Lianyungang in Jiangsu Province with Rotterdam in the Netherlands, was hailed as a breakthrough after China was diplomatically isolated as a result of the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square massacre.

But since the first cargo left Lianyungang on September 12, 1990, no trains have travelled the route.

Mr Xu Changxiang, director of the Lianyungang Asia-Europe Land Bridge Office, said the suspension was due to disagreement among the various countries now running the railway.

According to him, the governments of most of the countries - except China and Russia - lacked experience in managing a transcontinental railway system.

Making the situation even more difficult was the slow transition to a market economy by the various countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States, Mr Xu said.

''They are still following a centrally-planned economy,'' he said.

''Eight hours' work a day means eight hours' work a day, no more and no less.

''But China has already switched over to a market economy.'' Mr Xu also blamed freight operators in Kazakhstan for over-charging, saying high costs there rendered the Eurasia Railway uncompetitive with sea transport.

Mr Yao Mingshan, deputy construction director of Lianyungang, believed the problems would be resolved and pointed out that the trans-Siberia railway did not become fully operational until six years after its completion.

He said the Rotterdam-Lianyungang rail link was still attractive because it greatly shortened the time required in moving cargoes from Japan, South Korea and Hongkong to the Middle East and eastern Europe.

According to Mr Xu, the Ministry of Railways will hold a meeting in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, tomorrow to discuss the problems.

''We will report at the meeting the progress of the rail link and seek assistance from the central Government to speed up negotiation with the other countries,'' he said.

Meanwhile, China is also approaching Japan and Hongkong in the hope that they will apply pressure on CIS countries to reopen the railway system.