Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun has encouraged overseas and domestic private investors to get a share in the railways' as China accelerates the construction and reconstruction of its railway network.
"We welcome overseas and domestic private investors to get part ownership of the railway lines, except the trunk rails," Liu said on the sidelines of the annual National People's Congress (NPC) session.
This is a major step in investment reform and will get the government "ample capital" to realize its plan to expand the railway network from the present 70,000 km to 120,000 km by 2012.
Potential investors have been lukewarm to invitations to invest I the railways for fear low profits because the government still controls the transport pricing regime.
Overseas and domestic investment in the railways from 2003 to last year was 10 billion yuan (US$1.4 billion), Liu said. But their share is less than 2 percent of the total investment of 522 billion yuan (US$73.4 billion) in past five years.
"Future investment opportunities will increase because we are going to raise some incentives to change the situation," Liu said without giving details of the pricing regime reform.
Earlier, he said the government will spend up to 300 billion yuan (US$42.18 billion) to build 7,820 km of tracks this year, when separate power generating units will be set up at more than 2,000 railway stations.
The railways experienced the worst disorder last month when heavy snow and sleet stranded millions of passengers desperate to return home for Spring festival. Five years from now, passengers won't have to suffer the same predicament in such a situation, Liu said.
"The heavy snow showed the railways are behind the country's economic and social development," he said. "It reminded us that we have to try every possible means to increase our railway transportation capability."
He asked local railway departments to maintain a balance between a reserve of electrical engine trains and diesel-fueled locomotives. "We will try to improve the transport capability of the Beijing-Guangzhou railway and other major lines to a great extent in three to five years," he said.
(China Daily March 10, 2008)