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All aboard for Sichuan's high-speed rail

IT is hard to imagine an ordinary villager like Wang Aimin, a survivor of the May 12 earthquake, describing anything as "poetic." But he does.

As the construction of a 66-kilometer express railroad between Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province in southwest China, and Dujiangyan progresses, the 36-year-old Wang sees in his mind's eye a "poetic picture."

He can picture the electric-powered trains speeding at 200 kph on the railroad flyover near his village in less than two years' time, with the surroundings improving.

It is the first major transport project since the May 12 quake.

But Wang's "poetic picture" has much greater ramifications for his family's well-being and children's education.

"The building of the express railroad has already brought economic benefit to my family," Wang says.

Wang leases his small three-story building, the interior of which was damaged by the quake, to one of the operation centers of the builders, the No. 8 Bureau of China Railway Group Ltd.

His family will receive 50,000 yuan (US$7,140) from the one-and-a-half-year lease of the building near the construction site, and invest it in his child's education.

"I'll definitely use the money on my child's education," Wang says. "It will help him receive a better middle school education and the next goal we set for him is university admission."

Wang, who used to repair bicycles and is now a worker with a project contractor, wants his son to follow his cousin, who graduated from China's Tsinghua University and is teaching in Singapore.

According to Wang, many households in his Xipu village in Pixian County near Chengdu, lease their houses to the railroad constructors.

The completion of the express railroad, just one of the major post-quake projects, will bring them better business opportunities and more everyday necessities, Wang says.

The railroad line will bring with it dining, hotels, property, education and tourism.

"It's going to be a huge boost to the confidence of people in quake-hit areas as well as to the domestic demand," says Li Shiqiang, deputy general manager of a branch of the No. 8 Bureau of China Railway Group Ltd.

The construction of the railroad, launched in November, will be completed in 2010. The electric-powered trains, with the shortest interval of three minutes, will carry 20,000 people per hour, Li says.

A total of 13.3 billion yuan is invested in this project. Sichuan Province will need 1.67 trillion yuan to rebuild after the quake, according to Vice Governor Huang Xiaoxiang. Around 51,000 kilometers of roads and 5,500 kilometers of railroad willbe constructed.

Domestic demand spurred

On November 12, the central government announced several measures, including infrastructure projects and a further rise in export rebates, in a wide-ranging attempt to stimulate the economy and ease the impact of the global financial crisis.

"The construction of infrastructure will enormously spur investment and domestic demand," says Qi Baosen, chairman of China Railway Eryuan Engineering Group Co Ltd.

While employment is up, the railroad will also contribute to industrial expansion, income and consumption, and other sectors' growth, Qi says.

However Li Bin, a partner of the Friends-Gathering village compound for cuisine and accommodation near the railroad construction site, is skeptical.

He worries the building may damage the road in front of his compound, which already has experienced a business downturn after the quake.

But the railroad builders are digging only a short and narrow part of one side of the road and the transport of railroad construction material on the road should not be a concern.

Then, he will receive his first business from the construction, providing accommodation for project monitors from Beijing for months.

"It's obvious the railroad will be an opportunity for business," Li says.

He is now considering providing boxed food to construction workers, about 50,000 at the peak of construction, as well as more food for tourists when the railroad is completed.


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