Xin­jiang shifts into top gear with high-speed rail

China Daily (Canada) - - XINJIANG -

in Urumqi cui­jia@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Sun Jid­ing will never for­get the first time he trav­eled from Lanzhou, cap­i­tal of Gansu prov­ince, to Urumqi, cap­i­tal of the neigh­bor­ing Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, in 1983.

He was trapped in the train for 54 hours dur­ing the jour­ney that cov­ered nearly 2,000 km. “I looked out at the seem­ingly end­less Gobi Desert and said to my­self ‘Xin­jiang is just too far away’.

“But Xin­jiang fi­nally has a high-speed rail­way, which has brought us closer to the rest of the coun­try and, most im­por­tant, to Beijing.”

Born in Lanzhou, the 52-year-old has since set­tled in Urumqi.

OnNov6, whentick­ets forthe new ser­vice be­tween Urumqi and Hami city on the LanzhouXin­jiang high-speed rail­way were­be­ing­soldforthe­first­time, Sun ex­cit­edly checked the timetable at the Urumqi South rail­way sta­tion.

The 530km­ser­vice be­tween Urumqi and Hami started on Sun­day. It is the first high­speed ser­vice in China’s far west and halves the sev­en­hour trav­el­ing time. First-class seats cost 196 yuan each and sec­ond-class seats 163.5 yuan each.

But Sun re­ally wanted to find out when the whole 1,776-km Lanzhou-Xin­jiang high-speed rail­way, which also passed through Qing­hai prov­ince, would be in full op­er­a­tion.

“I was told by rail­way staff that it will take only nine hours to Lanzhou from Urumqi once the whole high-speed rail­way is run­ning at the end of this year,” he said.

“It’s just un­be­liev­able, com­pared with that 54 hour-jour­ney I first took,” he said, while send­ing a text mes­sage to his wife to tell her the good news.

“For many peo­ple, Xin­jiang seems like a far­away and­mys­te­ri­ous re­gion at the western end of the coun­try. Some still be­lieve that we ride camels to work,” Sun said.

“The long dis­tance be­tween the re­gion and the rest of China has cre­ated com­mu­ni­ca­tion prob­lems and even mis­un­der­stand­ings.”

“For vis­i­tors, the cost of trav­el­ing to Xin­jiang, which ac­counts for about one-sixth of China’s land area and boasts rich tourist re­sources, is their main con­cern. Due to the long dis­tances in­volved, plane tick­ets are ex­pen­sive and train jour­neys can be very long,” said Hui Xinru, man­ager of the Xin­jiang Kanghui Dazi­ran in­ter­na­tional travel agency.

By 2017, train pas­sen­gers from Beijing will be able to reach Urumqi in 16 hours in­stead of the cur­rent 40 hours after all high-speed rail links be­tween are com­pleted.

Once the Lanzhou-Xin­jiang high-speed rail­way rolls out, the re­gion ex­pects more than 40 per­cent of its tourists to ar­rive on the new trains, which will help drive the de­vel­op­ment of re­gional tourism, said Ma Rui, deputy in­spec­tor of Xin­jiang’s tourism bureau.

The high-speed rail will shorten the trav­el­ing time be­tween Xin­jiang and other prov­inces, with peo­ple hav­ing more time to ex­pe­ri­ence Xin­jiang rather than spend most of the time on the road, Ma said.

“They are wel­come to stay with the lo­cals and have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of Xin­jiang peo­ple.”

Sun­him­selfis­thinkingabout tak­ing a day trip to Tur­pan, which is one of the stops on the high-speed rail­way and takes less than an hour to get to from Urumqi.

Tur­pan is fa­mous for its grape plan­ta­tions, and lo­cal Uygurs still use tra­di­tional meth­ods to make raisins. It is also known for its an­cient ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem made up of wells linked by un­der­ground canals that chan­nel moun­tain runoff to re­duce the evap­o­ra­tion of wa­ter re­sources in the hot and arid area.

Tourism is one of the pre­fec­ture’s pil­lar in­dus­tries, and Tur­pan has re­ceived 3 mil­lion vis­i­tors so far this year.

The new rail­way is ex­pected to draw 30 per­cent more tourists to Tur­pan. The lo­cal gov­ern­ment has de­cided to

the two

ci­ties of­fer dis­counts on tourist sites for vis­i­tors like Sun who take the high-speed rail, said Chen Shuguo, di­rec­tor of the pre­fec­ture’s tourism bureau.

“A ‘high-speed rail’ fever has hit Tur­pan res­i­dents. We have been con­stantly think­ing about the pos­si­bil­i­ties brought by it,” Chen said.

Ma from the re­gional tourism bu­reau­said the re­gional gov­ern­ment will take ad­van­tage of high-speed rail to make tourism in­comeac­count­for10per­centof the re­gion’s an­nual GDP, from the cur­rent 8 per­cent.

The surge in tourism will boost la­bor-in­ten­sive in­dus­tries such as the ser­vices and hand­i­craft sec­tors and gen­er­ate more jobs.

Zhang Tian­shun stood pa­tiently out­side the Yolchi­lar black­smith work­shop in Urumqi’s Er­dao­qiao area.

He was wait­ing for work­shop owner Bayi­aji to in­spect a tra­di­tional cook­ing grill, be­fore shipping the or­der to south­ern China’s Shen­zhen city by rail­way.

“Bayi­aji’s grill is the best and all his prod­ucts cus­tom­ized for buy­ers around China are trans­ported by rail­way,” said Zhang, man­ager of the Tian­shun rail­way lo­gis­tics company in Urumqi.

The Lanzhou-Xin­jiang high-speed rail­way is ex­pected to have a ma­jor im­pact on his and Bayi­aji’s business, the 47-year-old said.

When the high-speed rail­way starts, all pas­sen­ger trains will grad­u­ally be shifted to the new line. The old line, which was opened in the early 1960s and runs low­er­speed trains, will serve only freight trains. That means the an­nual rail freight ca­pac­ity to Xin­jiang could surge to 200 mil­lion metric tons from the cur­rent 70 mil­lion tons, said Ma Liangyuan, di­rec­tor of the trans­porta­tion depart­ment of the re­gional de­vel­op­ment and re­form com­mis­sion.

“In­creased freight ca­pac­ity could lower the ship­ment cost, which will bring more business to me and make the price of Bayi­aji’s prod­ucts more com­pet­i­tive,” Zhang said.

Xin­jiang res­i­dents have a common com­plaint — on­line stores of­ten ex­clude them from free na­tion­wide shipping be­cause the costs are too high. But Zhang be­lieves the high-speed link could change that.

The old Lanzhou-Xin­jiang rail­way is the only rail link to ship goods to and from Xin­jiang. Its ca­pac­ity has reached its limit and can no longer meet the surg­ing de­mand, said Yan Hai­long, deputy di­rec­tor of the re­gional de­vel­op­ment and re­form com­mis­sion’s re­gional economies re­search in­sti­tute.

Dur­ing peak sea­sons, peo­ple face dif­fi­cul­ties in shipping Xin­jiang’s agri­cul­tural prod­ucts and other re­sources. That also af­fects the planned re­lo­ca­tion of some in­dus­tries from the coun­try’s coastal ar­eas to the west, he said.

Zhang­said his or­ders in­clude large quan­ti­ties of Xin­jiang’s fa­mous dried fruit such as raisins, dates and apri­cots.

“I have no prob­lem shipping dried fruit but I have to turn down or­ders of fresh fruit be­cause I can­not guar­an­tee they can ar­rive at their des­ti­na­tions be­fore they be­gin to rot.”

There will be fewer such in­ter­rup­tions after the old Lanzhou-Xin­jiang rail­way is re­served for freight and he plans to try de­liv­er­ing fresh fruit by then, Zhang said.

Xin­jiang is rich in coa­lan­doil re­serves. The cost and time taken to ship its coal to other parts of China will also be lower, which could con­trib­ute to China’s en­ergy se­cu­rity, Yan said.

In Septem­ber last year, Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping pro­posed dur­ing a visit to Kaza­khstan that China and other coun­tries build a mod­ern Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt to boost co­op­er­a­tion and es­sen­tially re­vive the an­cient trade route link­ingChina and Europe that dates back more than 2,000 years.

To that ef­fect, the lat­est high-speed rail de­vel­op­ment could help plug the gaps in con­nec­tiv­ity and trans­port in­fra­struc­ture.

“The in­creased freight ca­pac­ity could sig­nif­i­cantly help to boost trade with neigh­bor­ing coun­tries and coun­tries on the Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt, mak­ing Xin­jiang a trade hub,” Ma said.

“The high-speed rail­way will fa­cil­i­tate eco­nomic and so­cial de­vel­op­ment in the au­ton­o­mous re­gion.”

Adi Turdi is China’s first high-speed train driver from the Uygur eth­nic group. On Sun­day, he also had a taste of the first high-speed train of the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, from Urumqi to Hami.

BothAdi’s par­entswork for Xin­jiang’s rail­way au­thor­i­ties. The 34-yearold said he grewup play­ing around real trains, so it is nat­u­ral that he is liv­ing his dreamby driv­ing one of them.

Adi is one of the 25 high-speed Uygur, Kazakh and Han train driv­ers serv­ing the new line. They re­ceived train­ing in other high-speed rail­ways and all of them earned their li­censes last Septem­ber.

“It’s like driv­ing an air­craft on the ground,” Adi said. “Iamso proud to op­er­ate trains equipped with ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy inmy home.”

Adi said he used to think that high-speed trains were “just fast”. Now, he be­lieves they change and im­prove lives.

It’s like driv­ing an air­craft on the ground.” ADI TURDI CHINA’S FIRST HIGH-SPEED TRAIN DRIVER COM­ING FROM THE UYGUR ETH­NIC GROUP

“Many peo­ple nowuse high-speed trains for every­day trans­porta­tion, like buses. They bring peo­ple closer to­gether and can help fuel re­gional de­vel­op­ment.”

The de­signed top speed of Xin­jiang’s high­speed rail­way is 250 km per hour, which means the train he drives is not the fastest in China. High-speed trains in the coun­try are re­stricted to 300 km/h for safety rea­sons.

“Although I can’t be the fastest train driver, I am de­ter­mined be the best one,” Adi said.

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