China's railways still short of demand despite expansion

Although China's railway links rose rapidly in length and speed, they still could not meet the tiding demands during the approaching Spring Festival travel peak, a senior official with the Ministry of Railways (MOR) said Wednesday.

The use of more high speed trains and passenger-only lines along the nation's trunk routes strengthened the transportation capacity, but they were still not enough for an estimation of 210 million passengers during the transportation peak, said Gao Xiaobing with the MOR, at a press conference in Beijing.

The annual peak season, or "chun yun" in Chinese, will span from Jan. 30 to March 10, during which the Lunar New Year, China's most important traditional festival for family reunion, will fall on Feb. 14.

Freezing weather which frequently hit the nation this winter would add more uncertainties to the transportation as college students, migrant workers and tourists would flock to the railways during the same period, she said.

The number of travelers would hit 5.25 million daily and the peak volume could top 6.5 million a day. However, the full daily transportation capacity would be 5.57 million, 430,000 more than the previous year, Gao said.

Chun yun has become a complicated social problem in China, Gao said. Inadequate railway services resulted in severe ticket shortages and the situation was exacerbated as scalpers stockpiled tickets and resold them at higher prices for fat profit margins.

To crack down on ticket hoarding, China will pilot a system during this year's peak season, requiring train travelers to buy tickets with their own personal IDs.

Railway work staff would be severely punished or removed from posts if they were found engaged in any hoarding activities, Gao said.

Ticket booths would operate 24 hours a day to ensure supply, she said.

Hong Kong Express Rail Link

Asked about the hot-debated Hong Kong express rail link, Wang Yongping, a spokesman with the ministry, said the rail could improve traffic situation remarkably and shorten the distance between Hong Kong and the mainland, for example, cutting travel time between Guangzhou and Hong Kong to 40 minutes from two hours.

The Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) on Jan. 16 approved a HKSAR government proposal to earmark 66.9 billion HK dollars (8.6 billion U.S. dollars) for building the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express rail link.

The express rail is part of a 16,000-km national high-speed rail network currently under construction in China.

"The Guangzhou-Shenzhen express rail section was launched in December 2005 and is expected to open to traffic this year as it has been under construction smoothly," Wang said.

"The Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express rail will join with Beijing-Guangzhou express rail, which will be put into operation in 2012," Wang said.

The Hong Kong section is expected to be completed in 2015. It will take railway passengers only five hours to travel from Hong Kong to Wuhan, eight hours to Shanghai and ten hours to Beijing.

The Wuhan-Guangzhou high-speed railway with the world's fastest train journey, with a 350-km-per-hour average speed, started operation in December.

The service between Wuhan, a metropolis in central China, and Guangzhou, a business hub in the southern Guangdong Province, cut the 1,068.6 km journey to three hours from the previous 10 and a half hours.

China's railway links have expanded to 86,000 kilometers by the end of 2009, the world's second longest only after the United States.

Railway passengers topped a record 1.53 billion last year. Cargo transportation hit 3.32 billion tonnes, according to the ministry.

Railway investment surged 80 percent to 600 billion yuan in 2009 boosted by the 4-trillion yuan stimulus package. The government has planned a record 823.5 billion yuan for 2010 to extend the network to 90,000 kilometers by the end of this year.