Transportation sector growth picks up speed
A high-speed train travels along a line from Zhengzhou, Henan province, to Chongqing, which began operations in June last year. [Li Yang/Xinhua]
Higher investment and a detailed plan of action aim to provide greater convenience and greener travel. Luo Wangshu reports.
Last year, China's transportation sector saw more investment and extended itself on all fronts to promote high-quality growth, meet people's travel needs, improve lives and boost socioeconomic development.
Despite downward pressure on the economy and external challenges, the sector has driven domestic demand and expanded investment to stabilize economic growth and create new space for funding, according to Hou Zhenxing, deputy director of the general planning department at the Ministry of Transport.
"Transportation is the pulse of the economy and provides the connections of civilization," he said.
The ministry said investment in transportation fixed assets saw a 6.3 percent rise in the first three quarters of last year from the same period in 2021, maintaining a high growth rate.
The country has also accelerated the construction of a comprehensive transportation network. In October, a detailed plan was released for the construction of the system's backbone network, with the scale expected to reach 260,000 kilometers by 2025.
A project was also launched to improve the transportation and logistics network to boost the carriage of freight in urban areas, with 15 cities selected as the first group to be built into national cargo transport hubs.
Major transport construction projects — such as the Sichuan-Tibet Railway, the expansion of the Beijing-Shanghai Expressway and the third phase of the Changsha Huanghua International Airport in central China's Hunan province — proceeded smoothly.
Roads, railways and other transportation facilities were built and opened, and more money was invested in building highways in order to maintain and increase investment and stabilize the economy.
Passengers take a picture in front of a bullet train from Beijing to the Xiong'an New Area, Hebei province, in December 2020, when the line started operations. [Zou Hong/China Daily]
From January to August last year, investment in transportation-related fixed assets amounted to 2.34 trillion yuan ($345.4 billion), a rise of 6.6 percent from the same period in 2021, the ministry said. Of that, 1.77 trillion yuan was invested in highway construction, a rise of 9.5 percent.
From January to September last year, construction began on 299 new expressway and national and provincial highway projects. The total length will be 9,645 km, which will cost 882 billion yuan, said Gu Zhifeng, a deputy head of the ministry's highway bureau.
The projects include an underwater tunnel in Jiangsu province and expressways in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.
In the first three quarters of last year, 9,756 km of expressways and national and provincial highways were built at a total cost of 557 billion yuan. "The ministry will continue to expand investment in road construction with the key aim of improving the connectivity of the road network," Gu said. He noted that the implementation of major highway projects will facilitate economic stability, boost construction of the modern transportation system and provide more support for high-quality development.
Zhou Rongfeng, another deputy head of the highway bureau, said that to facilitate construction, the ministry has strengthened coordination protocols to better understand the progress of key projects and help solve problems faced during construction.
The measures include: establishing working groups; conducting on-site surveys; implementing online systems to track progress; and setting up project journals that will provide up-to-date information on the progress made.
Meanwhile, more railway lines were built and put into operation last year. A total of 4,100 km of new lines opened to traffic, with high-speed railways accounting for 2,082 km of the figure, said Liu Zhenfang, president of China State Railway Group.
That brought China's railway network to 155,000 km. High-speed railways accounted for 42,000 km, the longest such network in the world.
Meanwhile, the railway sector saw a fixed asset investment of 710.9 billion yuan last year.
People from the Yi ethnic group sing during a train journey from Chengdu, Sichuan province, to Kunming, Yunnan province, last month. [Jiang Hongjing/Xinhua]
On Dec 31, the latest section of a smart freeway linking Beijing and Xiong'an New Area in neighboring Hebei province opened to traffic.
It cuts the journey time from Beijing to about 50 minutes and plays a strategic role in boosting the integrated development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei cluster, the ministry said.
The section — roughly 12 km, running from the capital's South Sixth Ring Road to the city boundary — is part of the Beijing-Xiong'an freeway, the most convenient road corridor from the capital to the new area.
When completed, the freeway will extend more than 100 km, with about 27 km in Beijing and 75 km in Hebei.
The Beijing section, which cost 12.21 billion yuan, has four lanes in each direction, which will cut the journey time by up to 30 minutes.
"It is the most convenient fast road link between Beijing and Xiong'an. It is only 82 km from the South Sixth Ring Road to the new area, which greatly improves efficiency," said Wang Jianhui, an official with the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport. The section also links with a freeway that runs to the Beijing Daxing International Airport, making it easier to travel to the hub from Xiong'an, he added.
Driving on the newly opened freeway, bullet trains can often be seen running parallel with the vehicles.
Nearly half the freeway's Beijing section — about 13 km — runs alongside a high-speed railway linking Beijing and Shijiazhuang, Hebei's capital, which reduces the impact of the transportation network on the environment, said Cui Genqun, president of China Railway Jingxiong (Beijing) Expressway Development, the company in charge of construction and operation.
"Being green is one of many such features of the advanced expressway," he said.
Construction involved about 22 hectares of a park filled with pear trees, 126 of them more than 50 years old. However, instead of digging up the 126 old trees, the construction team transplanted them to stand outside the core construction area.
"It protects the old trees and also provides a beautiful landscape for the freeway," Cui said.
Passengers prepare to board a train at the Chengdu South Railway Station last month. [Liu Zhongjun/China News Service]
The smart expressway is one of several in China that use advanced technology. The 5G network fully covers the route, and the adoption of the Beidou navigation system means a smart monitoring network has been established to reduce accidents. Moreover, safety warning lights have been placed at 30-meter intervals.
"The lights turn on automatically and flash when bad weather causes low visibility, such as in heavy fog, rainfall or snow," said Chen Yang, general manager of China Railway Jingxiong. Moreover, when a vehicle is too close to the car in front, the lights turn red to warn the driver to slow down, he added.
The operating company has cooperated with major navigation service providers to deliver real-time information for drivers, according to Chen.
"They can get up-to-date information when they use their navigation systems. We call it a 'housekeeping service'," he said.
As Zhang Wei lined up at a toll booth to leave Beijing on Dec 31, the PE teacher said the expressway will save time when he visits friends and relatives in Hebei.
Though the high-speed railway is convenient for travel between Beijing and Xiong'an, Zhang prefers to drive.
"I feel safer and more assured driving, especially during the epidemic in the past three years. It is also more convenient to carry luggage, especially large gifts," he said.
The expressway's remaining section — from the South Fifth Ring Road to the Sixth Ring Road in Beijing — is under construction and is expected to open this year.
When that happens, the road will be fully opened to traffic, as its Hebei section became operational in 2021.
A Fuxing model high-speed train enters the Xiong'an Railway Station, Hebei, in December 2020. [Sun Lijun/For China Daily]
The road is part of China's comprehensive transport network in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei cluster.
In October last year, a detailed plan was released to build the backbone of the network of the country's comprehensive transportation system, with the scale expected to reach 260,000 km by 2025.
According to a guideline released by the Ministry of Transport, the National Railway Administration, the Civil Aviation Administration of China and the State Post Bureau, the scale of the backbone will improve operational efficiency and service quality.
By 2025, the main network of the high-speed rail system and the expressway system will mostly be completed, and the quality of the regular railway network and national highway system will be improved.
By 2030, the backbone network will reach about 280,000 km, rising to 290,000 km by 2035. It will include: about 56,000 km of high-speed railways; 71,000 km of regular railways; 61,000 km of expressways; 72,000 km of highways; and 25,000 km of high-grade waterways.
The backbone network will include the most important passages and corridors linking major areas of the country.
By the end of 2021, it stretched 251,000 km, about 86 percent of its planned length, according to the guideline. That reduced journey times between regions, cities and provinces to support socioeconomic development.
The backbone is an important part of the nation's comprehensive transportation network, according to a high-profile blueprint guiding the development of the sector to 2035.
Released in 2021 by the State Council, China's Cabinet, the blueprint is the country's first mid- to long-term comprehensive transportation plan and maps out related prospects, according to Li Xiaopeng, minister of transport.
The guideline set the goal of building a more convenient, high-quality transportation network that will allow most travelers to access a national highway within 15 minutes of leaving their departure point, an expressway in 30 minutes and a railway in 60 minutes.
"The network — which will connect all county-level administrative regions, borders, major facilities and tourism spots — will comprise roads, railways, air routes and waterways," Li told a news conference in 2021.
According to the blueprint, the network will not only be convenient, but also cost-effective, green, intelligent and safe.