Railroads are the major mode of transportation in China. Carrying some 24 percent of the world’s railroad transportation volume, China’s railroads are critical to its economy. Because of its limited capital, overburdened infrastructure, and need to continually modernize, the rail system, which is controlled by the Ministry of Railways through a network of regional divisions, operates on an austere budget. Foreign capital investment in the freight sector was allowed beginning in 2003, and international public stock offerings are to be opened in 2006. In another move to better capitalize and reform the railroad system, the Ministry of Railways established three public shareholder-owned companies in 2003: China Railways Container Transport Company, China Railway Special Cargo Service Company, and China Railways Parcel Express Company.
The national rail system is modernizing and expanding rapidly and is efficient within the limits of the available track. Some 71,898 kilometers of track were operational in 2002. This total included 71, 898 kilometers of 1.435-meter gauge (18,115 kilometers of which were electrified) and 3,600 kilometers of 1.000-meter and 0.750-meter gauge local industrial lines. There were an additional 23,945 kilometers of dual-gauge track not included in the total. As of 2002, some 23,058 kilometers of the railroad routes were double tracked, representing 38.7 percent of the total. In 2004 China’s railroad inventory included 15,456 locomotives owned by the national railroad system.
The inventory in recent times included some 100 steam locomotives, but the last such locomotive, built in 1999, is now in service as a tourist attraction while the others have been retired from commercial service. The remaining locomotives are either diesel- or electric- powered. Another 352 locomotives are owned by local railroads and 604 operated by jointventure railroads. National railroad freight cars numbered 520,101 and passenger coaches 39,766. In 2003 China’s railroads carried 2.2 trillion tons of freight and 478.9 trillion passenger/kilometers. Only India had more passenger/kilometers and the United States more net ton/kilometers than China.
In October 2005, China completed a new section of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, a 1,142- kilometer-long section between Golmud and Lhasa. When it goes into full service in late 2006 or early 2007, the 1,956 kilometer-long line, which began construction in 1984, will link the rest of China with Tibet via a hub at Xining in Qinghai Province. Another large-scale railroad project is the New Silk Road or Eurasian Continental Bridge project that was launched in 1992. In China the project involves the modernization and infrastructure development of a 4,131-kilometer-long railroad route starting in Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province, and traveling through central and northwestern China to Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, to the Alataw Pass into Kazakhstan. From that point, the railroad links to some 6,800 kilometers of routes that end in Rotterdam. China also has established rail links between seaports and interior export-processing zones. For example, in 2004 Chengdu in Sichuan Province was linked to the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone in coastal Guangdong; exports clear customs in Chengdu and are shipped twice daily by rail to the seaport at Shenzhen for fast delivery.