Express railway to bring poor province out of isolation

Carrying a sickle at his side and a shotgun on his shoulder, Wu Laoguang started his daily farm work as usual at Basha, a Miao ethnic tribe village in Congjiang County, southwest China's Guizhou Province.

When he rested, a group of excited tourists crowded around him wanting to take a photo.

In a blue Chinese style short gown with his hair worn in a bun, Wu, 57, does not look like other farmers from elsewhere in China.

"I have never been outside our village my whole life," said Wu, whose village has a long history and with many traditions unchanged for centuries.

But changes are indeed looming at this tranquil and picturesque hamlet in a col 550 meters above sea level as the hilly province, where many poor people live, is gearing up to build express railway networks linking itself with economically developed areas.

Under construction near Basha Village is a tunnel through the mountains for the 857-km Guiyang-Guangzhou railway express line, which links Guizhou's provincial capital, Guiyang, with Guangzhou, capital of the southern Guangdong Province, one of the country's economic powerhouses.

With an estimated cost of 85.8 billion yuan (12.8 billion U.S. dollars), the new line will allow trains to travel at 200 km an hour when completed in 2014.

"I have no idea about what Guangzhou looks like," Wu said. "But I'm sure more urban residents and foreigners will come here as tourists after the railway opens."

"I think at that time, we will have more opportunities to make money," he said.

According to the rail line's designed speed, it should only take travellers two hours to come from Guangzhou to Basha Village.

Transport conditions have long been a bottleneck restriction of development and poverty alleviation efforts for Guizhou, home to about 5.85 million poorest people whose per capita annual income falls below the nation's poverty line of 1,067 yuan (about 160 U.S. dollars).

With a population of about 36 million, Guizhou looks set to become the transport hub of west China due to its geological position.

Guizhou adjoins Hunan Province to the east, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region to the south, Yunnan Province to the west, and Sichuan Province and Chongqing Municipality to the north.

Earlier this month, Guizhou provincial government and the Ministry of Railways signed a memorandum to jointly facilitate the construction of 29 railway projects in the province and extend the province's rail lines to 4,759 km with a total investment of 399 billion yuan (59.55 billion U.S. dollars).

Ten of the 29 railway projects are now under construction, 14 are planned to begin construction by 2015 while the other five projects are proposed to start construction by 2020.

The railway networks, once completed, will greatly boost Guizhou's exchanges with economically developed areas in the Yangtze River and Pearl River deltas, said Liu Yuankun, director of Guizhou Provincial Development and Reform Commission, the province's economic planner.

Liu said the improvement in infrastructure facilities will help bring out resources-rich Guizhou's development potential.

According to the province's economic planner, Guizhou has a coal reserve that equals the total of nine provinces located south of the Yangtze River, and resources of bauxite, phosphorite and lead zinc ore are abundant in the province.

"As the high-speed highway and railway network takes shape, Guizhou is now standing at a new starting point of development," Liu said.

"After being economically marginalized for decades in the country, we are looking for a completely new position in history," he added.

( Xinhua , September 22, 2010 )