World Bank Paper Examines China’s Experience in Railway Development

March 7, 2012

BEIJING, March 7 , 2012 – Over the past few years, China’s railway sector has built an astonishing number of large and complex railway lines under its Mid and Long-Term Railway Development Plan. Many of these projects, such as high-speed lines, employ state of art technologies. They have been delivered much faster than is typical of just about any other country. How was this achieved? A new World Bank paper reviews the fast delivery of railway projects in China, identifying three dominant factors behind such speed.

The paper titled Fast and Focused - Building China’s Railways prepared by John Scales, Jitendra Sondhi and Paul Amos, builds on the experience of the World Bank’s 30 plus year partnership with China’s Ministry of Railways. Three factors identified by the authors, (a) the concentration of responsibility, power and access to resources in one organization; (b) strong technical capacity and processes; and (c) a program effect that delivers economies of standardization and scale, are the predominant drivers behind the speed of construction.

“Transport infrastructure is expensive, the more so the longer it takes to build. Building it fast, while building it well, has financial, economic, and social benefits that are of interest to governments and people everywhere,” said World Bank‘s China Transport Sector Coordinator John Scales. “China’s experience in building infrastructure fast is a tale of success coupled with caution.” There are good and important lessons for many countries to learn, or re-learn, about the importance of vision, preparation, commitment and focus in pursuing large infrastructure investments. But country conditions are crucial. Not everything that has worked in China can be replicated one to one in other countries.

The paper underlines that tight deadlines also entail some risks and points to measures that the Ministry of Railway has undertaken since the Wenzhou train crash in July 2011 crash in order to enhance safety and ensure quality.

The paper is the third of a series of papers on transport topics produced by the World Bank in Beijing.

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