Intercity rail link start of world-beating network

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 January, 2011, 12:00am

Guangdong has completed the first step in its aggressive plan to have one of world's most comprehensive regional rail networks, with the launch last week - after a year's delay - of a railway linking cities along the west bank of the Pearl River Delta to Guangzhou.

The first intercity railway in the western part of the PRD, the 143-kilometre Guangzhou-Zhuhai intercity rail line, is the start of a bigger network that will link all nine PRD cities in the next decade.

Song Jinsong , a regional planning expert close to the plan, said the network would take the PRD from 'the era of the highway' to 'the era of public transit'.

The China Railway Fourth Survey and Design Institute Group, which helped plan the PRD's intercity rail system, said the network would have 16 routes and about 1,500 kilometres of track by 2020.

Experts and officials say people will be able to travel between any two PRD cities in around an hour. It will when finished take about 50 minutes to travel from Guangzhou South Station, the terminal of the intercity rail network, to Zhuhai by train - compared to at least an hour and a half by bus.

Residents of Zhongshan and Jiangmen have welcomed the project because it means the two cities and Zhuhai will be connected by rail to Guangzhou and the cities on the PRD's east bank for the first time.

Three more lines are under construction. One, on the east bank of the PRD, will connect Guangzhou, Dongguan and Shenzhen. Another will link Dongguan and Huizhou, and the third will connect Foshan and Zhaoqing. All three are expected to be operating by 2013.

Song, director of the Guangdong Urban Development Research Centre, a government-backed think tank, has been involved in plans for the network since 2003, when Guangdong was only considering a 600-kilometre-long intercity rail network.

Echoing the Ministry of Railways' call for railway construction to be ramped up, the province revised the plan two years ago to include nearly 2,000 kilometres of track.

The Yangtze River Delta and Bohai Rim region have similar plans but Song said the PRD's would have more routes, with the 'density of the railways being close to that in Tokyo and London'.

Zheng Tianxiang , a consultant for various infrastructure projects in Hong Kong and the PRD, including the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai Bridge, stressed the significance of the new line.

'It is very important that the railway can gradually balance the development of PRD cities,' he said. 'Now people can work in Guangzhou and buy their properties in Zhongshan or even Zhuhai, which will boost real estate markets and other services in those cities.'

However, the whole intercity rail network will cost more than 300 billion yuan (HK$351 billion), and Zheng warned that planners should calculate input and returns wisely.

He said that for big cities such as Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dongguan and Zhuhai the service was necessary because the passenger flows would be large and stable.

'But does it really need to have so many routes in such a short time?' he asked.

Local media and officials say rapid economic growth will boost demand for the services and new facilities will trigger waves of tourists.

But Zheng cited the example of the Western Corridor between Shenzhen and Hong Kong, saying that after three years traffic was still only about a fifth of its designed capacity.

'It really needs smart calculation and not just wishful thinking,' he said.