XINING (Xinhua) – Three new high speed railway lines officially opened on Friday, the bullet trains’ maiden journeys may have transported passengers but they also brought economic opportunities to China’s underdeveloped western interior.
The Lanxin high speed railway – which links Xinjiang’s Urumqi with Xining, capital of Qinghai Province; and Lanzhou, capital of Gansu Province – is the first of its kind to be built on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
The Guiguang high-speed railway, meanwhile, links the southwestern Guizhou Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in the south to the economic hub of Guangdong Province. The designed speed is 250 km per hour on this route.
The 574-km Nanguang high-speed railway links Nanning, capital of Guangxi, to Guangzhou, capital of Guandong.
The new railways are marvels of advanced modern engineering, as the west of China is infamous for its challenging environment.
China’s western regions are rich in natural resources and home to dozens of ethnic minorities. However, for a long time, development has been stagnant.
Thus, the three lines will not only benefit the local people in terms of transportation but will also help the local economy.
Wang Dongwei, 51, a businessman who lives in Zhangye City in Gansu Province, jumped at the opportunity to take the high speed train from Zhangye to Lanzhou.
“In the 1980s, it would take 21 hours to travel from Zhangye to Lanzhou. Even today, the normal train takes more than six hours, but now, the trip is a mere three hours,” he said.
Meng Yinzhi, an agricultural worker in Gugua Village in Sandu Autonomous County, which is southwest of Guizhou, said the railway would change her life.
“I will find a job in Guangzhou after the Spring Festival, as the new railway reduces the trip from two days to just three hours, meaning I will be able to change my work/life balance,” said Meng, 36.
She explained that she had worked in Guangzhou for several years, but had returned home five years ago to take care of her elderly parents and baby, leaving her husband in the coastal city.
Wang Yuanlai, head of Ping’an County in Qinghai, said: “The high-speed railway will help western regions monetise their natural resources and will bring industrial advantages with it.”
According to Xinjiang’s development and reform commission, due to human traffic swapping to the new railway, freight volume on the old Lanxin railway will increase to 150 million tonnes a year compared to 78.5 million tonnes in 2013.
Director of the tourism bureau of Datong Hui and Tu Autonomous County in Qinghai, Sun Jing, said the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau will see a tourism boom thanks to the new Lanxin high speed line.
“The new network will bring more tourists to the region,” he said, adding that in the past, travel around the area was difficult and time-consuming.
The Lanxin railway, which follows part of the ancient Silk Road route, is also expected to play a key role in the Silk Road Economic Belt programme by boosting cooperation with central and western Asian nations.
“It will allow livestock, Tibetan blankets, dresses and other products to be shipped to Central Asia and Europe,” said Wei Xiaojun, who works at the Xining City customs department.
Researcher with the Guizhou Academy of Social Sciences, Huang Yong, said the Guiguang high speed railway will facilitate the transfer of technology and experience from eastern coastal areas to the southwestern interior.
China has achieved a string of high-speed railway mileage and technological milestones and boasts more than 10,000 km of high speed railway lines.
The Gobi Desert, which the Lanxin high speed railway crosses, had long been a technical conundrum for infrastructure projects.
Chief engineer of the railway project, Wang Zhengbang, explained that the area that the line crosses is known for devastating gales, which in the past have caused derailments so special wind-breaking structures had to be designed.
“It is the first time that technology [like this] has been used on such a large scale,” Wang said.
Guiguang high-speed railway, which runs through faults, rivers, valleys and downtown areas, has been hailed a “super railway” after its construction team had to overcome many difficulties.