Railway line heralds new trading dawn
Updated: 2013-03-18 05:40
By Guo Anfei and Hu Yongqi in Kunming, Yunnan (China Daily)
A train on a bridge of the 141-kilometer Yuxi-Mengzi Railway, the China part of the Pan-Asia Railway linking China with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Because of the special geographical conditions, the construction team behind the Yuxi-Mengzi line was confronted with many challenges. More than half of the railway, 77 km, was built on bridges and through tunnels. The new line will ensure faster speed and safer trips that sharply reduce the cost of transportation in the region. Wang Jianyun / For China Daily
Construction was a hugely complex affair taking years, say engineers
Pomegranate grower Ma Shan was pleased to see the train arriving at Mengzi, the capital city of the Honghe Hani and Yi autonomous prefecture in southern Yunnan province.
On Feb 23, a train pulled out of Kunming, passed through the city of Yuxi and proceeded to the southern Yunnan city for the first time. Its successful arrival marked the launch of the new Yuxi-Mengzi Railway.
In the near future, the train is expected to travel south from Mengzi, pass through nearby estuary ports and on to the Pacific Ocean, completing its historic journey in the island nation of Singapore. As such it will form the main transportation artery between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a geo-political and economic organization of 10 countries located in Southeast Asia, comprising Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
The operation of the Yuxi-Mengzi Railway "shortens the route by more than two hours from my town to the provincial capital of Kunming", Ma said.
"It will not only save me time but also cost less in shipping, which is more important for the fruit. We expect our income to increase this year," he said.
The Yuxi-Mengzi Railway, which opened at the end of last month, was considered a significant move by the Yunnan provincial government to facilitate local industries such as fruit-growing. As part of a bigger picture, the railway constitutes what will become an indispensable part of the eastern line of Pan-Asia Railways, a crucial connection between Southwest China and the economies of Southeast Asia.
At the fifth ASEAN summit in December 1995, former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad proposed building a Pan-Asia Railway through the Malay Peninsula, visiting Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and eventually reaching Kunming in China. The initiative immediately received recognition from the summit attendees and the Chinese government. In September 2006, the ASEAN countries reached a consensus to speed up the construction of the Pan-Asia Railway that will be completed in 2015.
The plan was to have three lines - in the east, the middle and the west. The east line would operate between Kunming, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Bangkok in Thailand, Phnom Penh in Cambodia, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi in Vietnam and Singapore.
When the last part in China is completed, between Mengzi and Hekou county in Honghe, faster trains will head south all the way to Singapore, through the biggest free-trade zone in the world. Experts say the Yuxi-Mengzi railway will help strengthen Yunnan's status as a frontier region open to the ASEAN economies.
As early as April 12, 1910, one loud but lingering whistle pierced the air over Kunming, declaring the operation of the Vietnam Railway. Export cargos from Yunnan were carried on the trains to as far as Hai Phong in Vietnam and then shipped to France.
The prosperous export trade brought Kunming the first customs and the first post office in Yunnan. The provincial capital then ascended to become one of the most influential cities in China. However, people had to endure trains that "were slower than cars". Things changed fundamentally in February this year when a fresh long beep resounded through Honghe declaring the official operation of the modern Yuxi-Mengzi Railway.
Now, as the railway starts operations and the Mengzi-Hekou link is under construction, Yunnan will have another historic opportunity to deepen exchanges with its neighbors.
Liu Baisheng, general director of the Kunming Railway Bureau, said locals would be the beneficiaries from this new railway.
Liu, who attended the National People's Congress session as a deputy in Beijing last week, told China Daily that the Yuxi-Mengzi railway starts from Yuxi, traversing Honghe Hani and Yi autonomous prefecture to cover an area of 48,200 square kilometers with a population of more than 6 million. The area is the major habitation of ethnic groups such as the Hani, Yi and Dai.
"With Kunming-Yuxi, Yuxi-Mengzi railway lines in operation, we have another option for transporting huge cargos long distances across Yunnan province. The new line will ensure faster speed and safer trips that sharply reduce the cost of transportation and increase profits," an entrepreneur in Honghe, who preferred to remain anonymous, said excitedly.
The tracks, mostly bridges and tunnels, were regarded as a soaring steel dragon by residents along the railway, who are optimistic about selling more local agricultural and sideline products and confident of developing the tourism industry
The Yuxi-Mengzi Railway goes through the central Yunnan Plateau, with its mountains and canyons and some of the most intense areas of crustal tectonic movement. Started in September 2005, the new line took seven years to build, said Liu from the Kunming Railway Bureau "The same length of 141 km would only take two or three years in less rugged areas," he said.
Because of the special geographical conditions, Yuxi-Mengzi line builders were confronted with many challenges. More than half of the railway, 77 km, was built on bridges and tunnels. The Xiushan tunnel, 10,302 meters in length, is the longest railway tunnel in Yunnan province and runs through multiple faults and caves. It is famous for complex geological conditions and frequent changes in surrounding rock types.
The tunnel experienced at least 150,000 cubic meters of water leakage during construction every day. The volume increased to 230,000 cubic meters in the rainy season. "The tunnel builders had to endure suffocating humidity, hot days in summer and dust from the digging. Sometimes the collapse of sandstone and mudslides also threatened their lives," said Liu.
After seven years of hard work, they finally completed this Southern Yunnan "mountain road", marking an historic achievement.
Guo Huiming, head of the southern Yunnan railway construction project, was filled with emotion. "The completion of the railway was not easy," he remarked in a very understated fashion.
Guo said the engineering geology of the entire line was extremely complex, with many mountains and deep valleys. "We had poor construction conditions and the work was difficult. There were 173 intersections. The amount of stone ballast totaled 447,626 cubic meters. And there were the bridges and tunnels."
The Yuxi-Mengzi line, according to the former ministry of railways, was a high-risk project because it involved, among many geological challenges, karst high-pressure, water-rich complex geology, tectonic movements, rock-crushing, lots of groundwater in caves, flooding and sudden landslides.
Workers at the construction site of Xiushan tunnel, which has a total length of 10,302 meters and is the longest railway tunnel in Yunnan province. The Yuxi-Mengzi Railway is famous for the complex geological conditions and frequent changes in surrounding rock types that engineers encountered. Wang Jianyun / For China Daily
The former ministry will be incorporated into the Ministry of Transport according to the just concluded session of the National People's Congress.
The former ministry and Yunnan provincial government attached great importance to the railway. "They came to the construction site several times to conduct research and to organize meetings to study and deploy technical solutions during construction," Guo said. "So we ultimately completed the Yuxi-Mengzi line thanks to their support."
On the map of Yunnan, the Yuxi-Mengzi Railway directly connects Honghe with Kunming, along with the existing Kunming-Yuxi Railway. Those areas are rich in mineral, biological, cultural and tourism resources. The most immediate effect of the railway's operation is to further enhance Kunming-Yuxi rail transport capabilities. "More importantly, it runs through several cities in central and southern Yunnan so economic factors can flow into each other more smoothly," said Duan Gang, president of the Yunnan Institute of Economic Research.
According to Liu from the Kunming Railway Bureau, Yunnan will become a big economic center, of which cores will be the central Yunnan Industrial District, the Kunming-Yuxi green industrial economy and Kunming-Yuxi leisure tourism economy. There will be two wings - the four cities of Kunming, Qujing, Yuxi and Chuxiong, with Kunming at the center.
The central Yunnan economic circle will be the economic, political, cultural and transportation center. The area will function as the core driving force to promote the integration of the province's economic resources and factors of production, Duan said.
Efforts have been made to promote the construction of central Yunnan Industrial District, focusing on high-end vehicle and equipment manufacturing, electronic information, biology, new materials, textile appliances and a modern services industry cluster area, according to the provincial government.
The Yuxi-Mengzi Railway and the Kunming-Bangkok Highway, along with the construction of the Pan-Asia Railway, will link the southern Yunnan economic circle with cities including Gejiu, Kaiyuan, Mengzi and Jianshui with Mohan and other important ports.
Rich natural and human resources in the area give it a huge advantage on top of the new communication links. The southern Yunnan economic circle is also part of the Kun-River Economic Corridor and there are also the central Yunnan economic connections to the Indian and Pacific Oceans east line and midline arteries.
The manufacturing capacity formed by the central Yunnan economic circle will steadily go to the southern Yunnan economic circle, targeted at the ASEAN market and other major importers around the world. The Yuxi-Mengzi Railway will also take on northward transport tasks from the southern Yunnan economic circle and also ASEAN regional resources in order to meet the central Yunnan economic circle requirement for industrial development.
Gejiu city contributes more than 90 percent of the country's output of refined tin. Xiaolongtan coal mine is Yunnan's largest open-cut brown coal mine, located in Kaiyuan.
In addition, the southern Yunnan region is also rich in iron, lead, gold and other mineral resources. These are indispensable for the development of the central Yunnan economic circle.
The Pan-Asia Railway will be the third Asia-Europe continental bridge linking China and ASEAN economies. As an important part of the east line of the Pan-Asia Railway, the Yuxi-Mengzi Railway will carry even more far-reaching significance.
In 2011, China's State Council announced its support to Yunnan province to accelerate the construction of an important frontier for Southwest China to open up, creating a historic opportunity for Yunnan. The Yuxi-Mengzi Railway will act as a highly significant link between China and Southeast Asian markets, further strengthening cooperation and exchanges between the countries, especially Vietnam, said Duan.
"For Yunnan, the railway has the positive significance of improving the province's railway network layout as well as the state of the railway business, promoting safe production and optimizing the railway industry structure. In the future, Yunnan will rely on the Pan-Asia Railway East Line to speed up the pace of opening-up and economic development and accelerate its integration into the global market," Liu Baisheng said.
Li Yingqing contributed to this story.
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(China Daily 03/18/2013 page13)