China’s railway fixed asset investments will grow to between RMB3.5 trillion and RMB3.8 trillion during period of the Communist Party’s 13th Five-year Plan, and 30,000 kilometers of new track will be laid. By 2020, China will have 150,000 kilometers of railways, of which 30,000 kilometers will be high-speed rail.
During the 13th Five-year Plan period, the national railway network will extend to cover all cities with a population of 200,000 or more, as well as 80% of China’s counties. China’s high-speed rail network will cover all the cities with a population of 500,000 or more and 90% of the nation’s regional districts.
The 13th Five-year Plan also calls for the implementation of the overall plan for connecting the basic infrastructure along the “One Belt One Road” strategic areas, by actively pursuing railway construction projects, rail links and port rail facilities.
Zhang Sun, a railway expert and professor of Tongji University, said that for the countries along the “One Belt One Road” initiative to be interconnected, transportation is fundamental, and rail link is a highly efficient means of transportation. It is therefore vital to bolster railway infrastructure. However, he admits that there will be national security and economic issues to consider among Southeast Asian and Central Asian nations, so most projects will start in within China’s borders before eventually extending to other countries.
Yan Dong, a researcher at the Comprehensive Transportation Economic Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), said many of the smaller nations along the “One Belt One Road” are extremely eager to connect to China’s railway network as soon as possible.
The NDRC and China Railway have been working hand-in-hand to push forward “One Belt One Road” plan. The railway projects are unlikely to be profitable, as the real value of the railway projects is strategic in that they could help accelerate the development of China’s western region, and more importantly it will bolster China’s international trade with SEA, Central Asia and Europe.
The National Railway Administration of China (NRAC) will enact far-reaching reforms during the period of the 13th Five-year Plan. These reforms call for refining government functions, streamlining administration and decentralizing decision-making, allowing railway operations to be independent from state control and state ownership. It will also enact internal reforms to accelerate the establishment of modern corporate governance, improve corporate optimization and structural adjustment, and establish healthy and effective executive structures and transform management concepts.
Ballooning debt burden from booming railroad construction in recent years has led the NRAC to constantly look for ways to broaden its financing channels and attract capital investment in rail projects from the private sector. However, judging from the situation in each province, there seems to be limited enthusiasm for railway investment among private companies. Pilot projects in China’s western region such as the Mongolia-Tibet rail line and the Sichuan-Yunnan rail lines have faced setbacks.
Mr. Sun said that are many real challenges facing the reform of China’s railway investment structure. Since the 12th Five-year Plan, China’s railway investment has started to shift away from relying on central government capital, and provincial government investment has increased in intercity and auxiliary rail line projects. Joint investment projects are also increasing and the Jinan-Qingdao High-speed Railway is an excellent example of a joint investment project that has attracted plenty of private sector investment.(Translation by David)