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High-speed rail to use local technology

China Daily: 2006-03-09
By Xing Zhigang

Foreign technology will not be used to build the high-speed rail link between Beijing and Shanghai, it was announced yesterday.
xin_maglev (18k image)
The magnetic leviation rail line in Shanghai

"We have already reached a consensus on the issue: the high-speed railway line will be fully based on our own technology," Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun told China Daily.

"We are confident and capable of completing the railway through the efforts of our engineers and technicians."

The minister did not specify what technology would be used but stressed "our technology is a re-innovation on the basis of assimilating advanced technologies of foreign countries."

He disclosed that the project may start as early as the end of this year after securing approval from the State Council, China's cabinet.

Liu made the remarks on the sidelines of the ongoing annual session of the National People's Congress, the top legislature.

It is the first time that a high-ranking Chinese official has specifically ruled out the use of foreign technologies in building the 1,300-kilometre railway.

The 200-billion-yuan (US$24.7 billion) project was first proposed in 1994 and originally scheduled for completion before the beginning of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing or the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

The express railway designed for a speed of up to 300 kilometres per hour is expected to shorten travel time between the two cities from 13 hours to less than 5.

But debate over the controversial technological issue has delayed the project, especially after it triggered a white-hot bidding war among Japanese, German and French companies.

Japan has been lobbying China to use its Shinkansen bullet train technology while France has been pitching its TGV high-speed transport system.

For its part, Germany has been pushing for the use of its magnetic levitation train technology or maglev which is already being used on a 30-kilometre route in Shanghai, the world's first such railway line in commercial operation.

China is a lucrative market for foreign companies since the country plans to build a 5,400-kilometre high-speed railway network with an investment of more than 1,000 billion yuan (US$124 billion) between 2006 and 2010.

Liu suggested the use of Chinese technology in the project was decided by the central government, which has unveiled plans to build China into an innovative nation in the next 15 years.

"The State Council is particularly interested in the technology issue," he said. "We have acted in line with State policy."

Analysts said China's decision is partly in response to concerns about reliance on overseas technology.

In early 2005, the Science & Technology Daily published a lengthy report questioning the Railways Ministry's strategy of relying on high-speed railway technologies imported at a high cost.

"Foreign companies will never give us up-to-date technologies," the report said, adding that the failure to build technological capability would eventually be at the cost of China's own technological innovation and the market.

Yesterday, Liu said the Beijing-Shanghai express railway project has been authorized by the central government and listed as one of the key transportation projects in the country's 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10).

The feasibility study report for the project will soon be submitted to the State Council for approval, he said.

The minister said China plans to build 19,800 kilometres of railways and rebuild 23,000 kilometres by 2010 to ease mounting pressure on its rail transportation system.

One of the key projects is a planned inter-city railway system in the Yangtze River Delta linking Shanghai with almost all major cities in neighbouring Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces in East China.