Hong Kong to benefit from 2,000km system Guangdong is considering plans to extend its intercity railway network to a 2,000km system covering 13 cities, a strategy that analysts say will enable Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta to get the edge over their regional competitors. The province's blueprint includes connecting Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dongguan , Zhuhai and Foshan in a ring of rail links to eight other delta cities. The cities of Zhaoqing , Kaiping , Jiangmen , Huizhou and Zhongshan are also to be included, as would rural areas such as Qingyuan , Enping and Taishan , which had been excluded from Guangdong's metropolitan circle. The infrastructure plans were part of Guangdong's 'thought liberation' process - a phrase coined by Guangdong Communist Party chief Wang Yang urging cadres to think more broadly. The rail network would rival those in Paris or Tokyo, the Nanfang Daily reported yesterday. The report said the network would encompass more rural areas in eastern and western Guangdong in a bid to narrow the wealth gap within the province. A report by the government-backed Guangdong Conditions Research Centre revealed that Shenzhen residents on average earned 63 times the income of their Heyuan counterparts. The provincial government's think-tank said the infrastructure would help Guangdong solve its developmental bottlenecks and compete with burgeoning metropolitan centres in the Yangtze River Delta and the Bohai Gulf. Centre director Feng Shengping said the network would make the industrial transformation of Hong Kong and Guangdong possible. 'Both Hong Kong and Macau ... will be able to enjoy the cheap labour and land available in rising manufacturing hubs in rural Guangdong when transport is no longer a problem,' he said. Mr Feng said railway links could cut manufacturers' overheads because maintenance costs were lower than for highways, and fuel would not be wasted during traffic jams. Ma Xiangming , chief engineer at the Guangdong Urban and Rural Planning and Design Institute, said the province lagged behind in its railway network, holding back economic growth. 'We have numerous checkpoints, ports and highways to connect with Hong Kong and foreign countries, but not many railways.' Mr Ma said that when highways reached capacity, 'rail becomes the cheapest and fastest solution'. 'The delta is such a multipolar region - with metropolises such as Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dongguan and Zhuhai - that you can't simply replace one with another one. To cope with dense population and busy traffic flow, a rail network is the optimum choice in terms of efficiency and environmental concerns.' Environmentalists applauded the strategy as a way to cut traffic pollution. In 2001, Guangdong planned to have 600km of track linking nine major cities in the delta before 2010. But in the latest blueprint, 19 transshipment centres from 13 cities have been named.