Ministry holding up freight lines
Toh Han Shih
The mainland's ports need more rail connections for containers to relieve traffic congestion and pollution, but a major obstacle to expanding rail container services is the powerful Ministry of Railways, officials say.
'In future, rail will be more important for China's ports. It's impractical for large ports like Shanghai to transport all of their containers overland by trucks,' said Luo Ping, director of the China Research Institute of Comprehensive Transportation at the National Development and Reform Commission.
The need for rail container services had increased because of the central government's policy of shifting manufacturing inland from coastal areas, Luo said at the Port Planning and Design China conference in Shanghai this week.
Only about 300,000 containers per year are transported to and from mainland ports by rail, less than 1 per cent of container throughput. Trucks hauled the vast majority of containers to the coast, Luo said, and rail containers had not been given priority in the ministry's latest five-year plan.
'The Ministry of Railways is a big state monopoly,' Luo said. 'It lacks the resources and ability to expand rail container services, so it is not interested in doing so. The biggest obstacle is systemic. Without reform, it will be very difficult to expand rail container services.'
In the past, Beijing has tried unsuccessfully to merge the powerful ministry with the Ministry of Transport, which oversees aviation, highways and waterways.
The railways ministry needed to be more market-driven to attract investment in rail container services, Luo said.
The Shanghai municipal government is considering building rail links to city ports such as Yangshan and Waigaoqiao to help relieve severe congestion problems in the city, said Cao Hongyu, an official in the planning and construction department of the Shanghai Municipal Transport and Port Authority.
'In its 12th five-year plan, the Shanghai government said it must resolve this transport problem as soon as possible,' he said.
Cao said there were contradictions built into the system because while Shanghai's ports and roads were under the control of the municipal government, railways were under the control of the ministry.
'The central government needs to reform the ministry to achieve a breakthrough in rail container services, otherwise there will be a conflict of interest,' Cao said.