Archive for the ‘rail’ Category

Shortage of trains strains China’s holiday rush, simmering unrest problem

January 21, 2009

Every year at this time, China’s rail system groans under a huge surge of holiday traffic. Travelers endure waits of hours — even days — in the winter chill to buy tickets. Once aboard trains, they overcrowd seats. Some sit in aisles. Others are forced to stand for trips of a day or longer.

Veteran travelers such as Wang Ping plan ahead for the arduous trips, knowing that the trains are so crowded that even getting to the bathroom can be a heroic feat.

“You eat very little. You drink very little,” she said. “There are too many people sitting in the aisle, so it’s very difficult to go to the toilet.”

The travails of travel around the week-long Lunar New Year festival, China‘s most important annual holiday, are more than a passing irritant to the 188 million Chinese who’ll board trains during the 40-day peak period. They’re also of concern to China’s leaders, who worry that holiday emotions could turn ugly and trigger social unrest at railway stations.

Severe snowstorms a year ago stranded tens of millions of passengers.

So it was little surprise that even President Hu Jintao weighed in with some sharp words for railway authorities before the holiday, which is also known as the Spring Festival.

By Tim Johnson, McClatchy Newspapers

” The Ministry of Railways must use its brains to work out many measures to help the people,” Hu said on Jan. 15 . “They should make these measures known to the public in order to lessen social tension and ensure the Spring Festival mission is completed in a smooth manner.”

As in past years during the holiday, complaints have mounted this year of under-the-table sales by rail employees to scalpers. One angry traveler took a video on his cell phone of a railway employee refusing to sell him a ticket. The video clip, which spread rapidly around Chinese Web sites, shows the stone-faced railway employee ignoring angry travelers outside the window as he prints out tickets. Postings with the video accused the employee of intending to sell tickets on the black market.

Sensitivities are so high that the Railway Ministry called a news conference and apologized for “hurting the feelings” of passengers. It vowed to probe illegal ticket sales.

Deputy Railways Minister Wang Zhiguo said 30,000 police officers were keeping order at railway stations, and that they had detained 2,390 scalpers and confiscated 78,200 tickets.

Wang said ticket vendors are barred from carrying mobile phones to their windows to prevent them from colluding with scalpers.

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China to spend $731B on railways by 2020

December 21, 2008

China will spend 5 trillion yuan ($730.6 billion) until 2020 to add 41,000 km (25,480 miles) to its already big rail network, state media said, as the government tries to boost domestic demand and ease strains on a jammed system.


Above: The world’s highest railway connecting Tibet with eastern Chinese provinces for the first time by rail. Operational since July 2006.

The latest edition of Outlook Weekly, published by Xinhua news agency, cited Deputy Railway Minister Lu Dongfu as saying the new railways would help promote economic growth, ease transport bottlenecks and provide at least six million jobs.

It did not say how much of the investment was new, and how much had already been approved by the central government, although some of the projects have already begun, such as a high-speed link from Beijing to the commercial capital Shanghai.

“Over the next two years these projects will satisfy urgent transport needs, ease bottlenecks on the railways, promote regional economic development and economic growth,” Outlook Weekly paraphrased Lu as saying.

New railways would be built linking major cities, and others would be dedicated to transporting coal in inland provinces and regions including Inner Mongolia and Shaanxi, the report said.

Last month China announced a sweeping 4 trillion yuan economic stimulus package of spending over the next two years, with a large portion of the funds targeting infrastructure projects such as roads and railways.

Beijing wants to boost domestic demand to help offset a slowdown in key export markets in Europe and North America, hoping to generate enough jobs to keep a lid on labour unrest and social instability.

While China has an extensive and increasingly efficient rail network, it is still beset by problems, and many parts of the country have poor or non-existent connections.

Every year during the Lunar New Year, millions of Chinese pack the railways to go home, many standing for hours as seats are so hard to get hold of. Even at normal times it can be hard to obtain a ticket.

The railways are also important haulers of freight and energy supplies such as coal around the country, but sheer volume of traffic can lead to delays and slow delivery.

The government has been spending billions of dollars on transport over the past few decades, and hopes to improve access especially to China’s vast and underdeveloped inland regions.

“Once the railways are open, conditions will improve and more trains will be able to run, leading to lower transport costs, shorter travel times for passengers and freight and other direct economic benefits,” the report quoted railway planning chief Yang Zhongmin as saying.

“It will also ease communication restrictions, improve the investment environment and have an enormous effect on industrial development,” Yang added.