All aboard: China’s railway dream

At Asia’s biggest rail cargo base in Chengdu in south-west China, the cranes are hard at work, swinging containers from trucks onto a freight train. The containers are filled with computers, clothes, even cars.

Until last year, all of it would have first gone more than 1,000 miles east to Shanghai and then to Europe by sea.

Chinese media called their prime minister the country’s top railway salesman, and when he went to London last month and trumpeted the prowess of China’s railway builders, enthusiasts back home were quick to observe that China was turning the tables on one of the world’s first great railway nations.

They pointed out that the nation which had brought the first rail to China 150 years ago is now agonising over its first 120-mile stretch of high-speed track between London and Birmingham, while China has already spent £300bn ($514bn) building 8,000-miles of track and intends to double that before the end of the decade.

Foreign dependence

Until now, Chinese railway engineering has always relied on foreigners.

One hundred and fifty years ago, the British built China’s first railway. The Qing Empire was suspicious of the foreign colonialists and their plans to open up China’s interior by means of rail. But Europeans, Soviets and Japanese have all played a part. Even as recently as a decade ago, it was French, German and Japanese companies which brought high-speed rail to China.

But now, China has begun building its own bullet trains and indignantly denies suggestions that its advances owe anything to stolen technology. It said the story is one of “introduction, digestion, absorption and re-innovation”.

Whatever the case, China’s great railway adventure is picking up steam. The maps on the walls of the headquarters of the Chengdu Logistics Office make it obvious how rail can transform the fortunes of west China.

Until now, shipping goods down the Yangtse and then loading them onto ocean-going ships has enormously disadvantaged inland-China. Now, said logistics chief Chen Zhongwei, the days of foreigners knowing only coastal cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong are over.

“We have an opportunity to narrow the gap between east and west China. We’re no longer a landlocked city, we’re a port city,” Mr Chen said.

“No longer famous for bad roads, now we’ve got an international airport and a rail port. We’re China’s ideal jumping off point for Europe.”

Full article: All aboard: China’s railway dream (BBC)

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