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Fast-spreading subway network faces financing challenge

English.news.cn   2013-02-04 19:43:09            

BEIJING, Feb. 4 (Xinhua) -- The financial costs and feasibility of China's fast-expanding subway network have come under the spotlight as more cities get the go-ahead to weave their underground network.

Statistics from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) showed altogether 28 cities had gained approval to build or expand subways last year, with 2,710 kilometers of new lines planned for the coming six to eight years.

Investments on those projects amounted to 910 billion yuan (about 144.4 billion U.S. dollars), according to the economic planner.

Apart from the newly approved plans, subway lines that are under construction scattered across China, including the metropolis of Beijing and Shanghai, as well as some second-tiered cities such as Changzhou and Dongguan.

China's subway construction experienced a boom following the country's massive 4-trillion-yuan stimulus program in 2009.

After taking a hit from the tightening monetary policies in 2011, activities picked up again last year when authorities introduced a string of pro-growth measures, including fast-tracking the approval of massive infrastructure projects, to pull the economy out of a slowdown.

In 2012, the cities of Suzhou, Kunming, Hangzhou and Wuhan opened their subways. The capital city of Beijing added four new lines to its operation on Dec. 30, bringing its track length to 442 kilometers, the country's longest.

By 2020, China aims to have subways in 40 cities, with track length reaching 7,000 kilometers.

Although the spread of the subway system is expected to ease congestion on the roads amid China's urbanization ambitions, hefty investments will heap financial pressures on some cities, analysts warned.

Local governments' fiscal revenue usually accounted for around 40 percent of the total investments, and the rest mainly came from bank loans and other financing vehicles, according to information from the NDRC.

For the less affluent cities in central and west China, such as Nanchang, Kunming and Nanning, investment on a single line would cost their governments' land tax revenues for a whole year, according to Zhang Kaizhao, an analyst with the Institute of Economics of Tsinghua University.

"The system is for public service, which means little profitability, and bank loans interests will bring long-term pressure for the cities," he said.

Given the long cycle of construction, bank loans can hardly meet government's financing needs.

Nanchang is planning to seek funding through various channels in 2013, including issuing local government bonds and equity trust.

In Shenzhen, the government said capital will mainly come from land developments along the lines.

As the system expands and brings more convenience to connected areas, land along the routes has become more expensive, which lifted revenues from land sales, but at the same time, investment costs also rose.

Jin Dongsheng, a researcher with the State Administration of Taxation, said the reliance on land revenues to cover costs is not sustainable as land transfers are limited.

"Although the local government is very active in promoting investments, financing will not be easy," said Zhao Qingming, senior analyst with China Construction Bank.

Editor: Yang Lina
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