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High-speed rail contributes to poverty alleviation in China by Jin Ling,June 25, 2019 Adjust font size:

On August 1, 2008, the first high-speed railway line in China – the Beijing-Tianjin Inter-City Railway – opened for service, allowing trains to run at a maximum operational speed of 350 km/h, and providing a convenient and time saving journey between two populous cities.

A decade later, China now already possesses the world's longest high-speed rail network. According to the country's latest mid-to-long-term railway network plan issued on July 20, 2016 which guides railway development nationwide from 2016 to 2030, China plans to integrate existing and future high-speed railway lines into a comprehensive network across the country by 2030, forming a web comprised of eight north-south arteries and eight east-west arteries. As stated in the plan, by 2020 China will have a 150,000-kilometer railway network, of which about 30,000 kilometers will be high-speed railways, covering more than 80 percent of major cities nationwide.

This network will shorten travel time between cities and increase the number of cities and regions that can enjoy the comfort, convenience and benefits of high-speed rail, as well as helping eliminate poverty. For example, the service cuts the travel time from the nation's capital Beijing, located in the north, to Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan Province in the south, from 30 or even 40 hours to 10. The Qinling Mountains, which are the natural boundary between north and south China, have hindered communication between China’s impoverished western regions and its wealthy eastern coastal regions. With the completion of routes such as the Xi'an-Chengdu line, Chongqing-Guiyang line, and Lanzhou-Chongqing line, the rich resources in central and western China are turning into profits for its people.

Comprehensive railway network, a boost for poverty alleviation

When talking about poverty alleviation, the first thing coming to the minds of senior people in China would probably be “for prosperity, build roads first” – a slogan promoted in 1978. With this slogan, China set out on a long journey to fight against poverty. The number of impoverished people in China fell from 770 million in 1978 to about 30 million at the end of 2017, accounting for almost 70 percent of the global reduction in the number of people living in absolute poverty.

By 2014, China still had more than 70 million impoverished people, most of whom were living in remote mountainous regions or grasslands in central and western China, or in the country’s border areas. To lift these people out of poverty, innovative and targeted measures are needed. China Railway Corp, commonly known as China Railway (CR), a wholly state-owned enterprise that undertakes railway passenger and cargo transport services in China, has played a key role.

On November 18, 2018, the Harbin-Mudanjiang High-Speed Railway started trial operations, and officially entered service by the end of the year. The 293-kilometer line links Harbin, the capital city of northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, with Mudanjiang, a city on the Russian border. It connects to the Russian border areas through Suifenhe port.

Four days later on November 22, construction of the Chongqing-Qianjiang section of the Chongqing-Hunan High-Speed Railway began.

China's most challenging rail project, the Sichuan-Tibet Railway, is making good progress. Construction of other lines is also being put on the agenda.

China’s high-speed rail network increased from zero 10 years ago to 25,000 km by 2017, accounting for 66 percent of the world's total. The operational network incentral and western China has reached 15,000 km. While achieving independent high-speed development capacity, China’s high-speed rail industry is also bringing the hope of escape from poverty to people in mountain, grassland and border regions.

Signature products of the northwest freighted out

With several types of topography and climate, northwest China possesses some natural resources that cannot be found in other parts of China. But due to limited transport capacity, these resources brought little profit to local people in the past.

For example, the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region is famed for its melons and fruits. But there was a conflict between carrying passengers and delivering goods, as the region is also famous for its natural scenery and ethnic culture. However, the entry into service of the high-speed railway between Lanzhou, the capital city of Gansu Province and Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjiang, on December 26, 2014 gave the solution – the high-speed rail mainly transport passengers while the traditional rails focus more on the delivery of goods.

This transportation capacity increase has not only boosted tourism in the region, but also allowed Xinjiang’s agricultural products to reach far and wide. In the past, the three days and four nights trip from Beijing to Urumqi held many travellers back. The Lanzhou-Urumqi high-speedline now slashes the travel time to 18 hours, making it much more convenient for tourists. From July 1 to 22, 2015, the first summer vacation period after the opening of the rail link, Urumqi station handled 1.7 million passenger departures, up 16 percent year-on-year, and 1.9 million passenger arrivals, up 13.8 percent year-on-year, according to a report by People's Daily Online.

On September 9, 2017, the high-speed line connecting Shaanxi’s Baoji City with Gansu’s Lanzhou came into service. A stop on this line, Dingxi, the poorest city in Gansu, can now foresee a prospect of escaping poverty by selling its signature potatoes.

On December 6 the same year, the Xi'an-Chengdu high-speed railway linking Xi'an, the capital city of Shaanxi Province in northwest China, with Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan Province in southwest China, entered service. China's first rail route to run through the Qinling Mountains, this line brings new opportunities to the impoverished Qinba mountainous area. Located at the southern end of the Qinling Mountain range, Wulangmiao village in Shaanxi is renowned for its noodles.Before the rail line opened to traffic, Zhao Jiguang bought a new drying machine and increased his annual noodle production from 5,000 kg to 7,500 kg. “There must be more tourists coming once the high-speedline is put into operation,” he said. “I’m not sure whether 7,500 kg of noodles will meet the demand or not.”

Similar stories continue to happen as more and more cities in northwest China are linked with fast railway networks.

High-speed rail lines stimulate tourism in the southwest

People in southwest China, which hosts a range of beautiful scenery, such as MountQomolangma in the Tibet Autonomous Region, Mount Emei in Sichuan Province, the Xijiang Miao Village in Guizhou Province, and Dali and Shangri-La in Yunnan Province, are also enjoying the benefits of high-speed rail.

On December 26, 2014, the Guiyang-Guangzhou High-speed Railway linking Guiyang, the capital city of Guizhou, with the highly developed city of Guangzhou entered service. Being the first stop in Guizhou on the line from the Pearl River Delta, Liping County saw rapid development of tourism. In 2016, the county received 3.3 million visitors, up 193 percent compared with the figure in 2013. Its GDP also increased 52 percent from 2013 to reach 8.03 billion yuan in 2016.

On December 28, 2016, the high-speed railway linking Nanning, the capital city of Guangxi, and Kunming, opened to traffic. The fastest train takes only four hours and forty minutes to complete the journey, compared to at least 12 hours previously. Being a stop on the line, Yunnan’s Qiubei County, which is rich in beautiful sceneries, has seen a boost in tourism. In 2017, the county received about 4.3 million visitors, and its tourism revenue rose to 2.9 billion yuan (US$418 million). With this pace of development, Qiubei’s impoverished population, calculated at 46,400 at the end of 2016, is expected to escape poverty in five years.

On July 1, 2018, the Kunming-Chuxiong-Dali Intercity Rail officially commenced operations. Linking Kunming and Dali, the two most popular tourist destinations in Yunnan, and passing the province’s Chuxiong and other places along the way, almost every train on the line is loaded with passengers. During vacations and holidays, travelers will struggle to get hold of a ticket.

On January 25, 2018, the Chongqing-Guiyang high-speed railway started operation, cutting the travel time between Guiyang and Chongqing from 10 hours to a little more than two. Bordering Chongqing, Guizhou’s Tongzi County attracts lots of Chongqing residents with its cool climate in summer, clean air, and organic foods. Yang Jie at Longtai village of Tongzi has transformed his three-story house into a family inn – the first floor for his own family, and the other two for guest rooms. In five months of 2017, the six guest rooms brought him a net income of almost 20,000 yuan (US$2,900). With the opening of the railway, he planned to further upgrade his inn.

As more and more lines are put into operation, China’s high-speed rail is helping more and more places escape from poverty.

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