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Railway sector fails to satisfy demands
(China Daily) Updated:2006-02-08 10:03

  The coal, electricity and petroleum transportation insufficiency of China's railway system that began in 2003 has not been fundamentally resolved.

  Despite the "leap forward" development strategy adopted by the Ministry of Railways, the railway sector has still not satisfied the demands of the national economy and social development on its transportation capacity.

  Against this backdrop, we can still predict that the railway sector's passenger and cargo transportation volumes and its profits will increase, though no specific statistical data is available.

  And the overloaded situation of railway passenger transport during the ongoing Spring Festival traffic peak season has also not changed a lot, either.

  Yet its ostensible prosperity cannot camouflage the numerous and deep-rooted problems existing in the industry.

  It is predicted that in the future there will be strong market demand for the railway passenger and cargo transportation.

  A Ministry of Railways regulation to encourage participation of non-public elements into railway construction and operation, along with other documents, cleared away legal obstacles for non-governmental capitals to enter the railway industry.

  However, so far, only very few private enterprises and shares have participated in the railway passenger transportation business, and the majority of the sector's investment shares are still tightly dominated by local governments.

  The sector's construction and operation are still in the hands of the government.

  Why do social and private capitals remain hesitant before the highly profitable railway industry when barriers for entry have been cleared away? And what are the underlying factors that lay obstacles for the sector's reforms and development?

  The railway industry, a sector with planned economic stamps, is expected to encounter a serious development and existence crisis if it continues to turn a blind eye to the severe situations and challenges it has encountered, or will encounter.

  A series of problems facing the sector, such as its low service quality, the high-perching ticket prices, antiquated railway networks, hidden security troubles, and lack of a well-developed competition mechanism always signal a crisis in the future.

  Also, social capitals have so far had no access to the industry.

  Sober judgement about what stage the industry is at and what the development opportunities it has faced is crucial in getting to the bottom of the country's railway reforms and development.

  The sector has missed the best development period, and will face dwindling market shares and fundraising inability, although it still has enormous room to develop.

  As a more free and modern mode of transportation, the highway traffic will inevitably challenge or upset the railway network's traditional dominant position in the transport realm.

  Because of its obvious planned economic stamps, the railway sector has so far not had a set of transparent and fair fiscal and operation rules or procedures, which has seriously hampered the entry of non-public funds.

  It's the Ministry of Railways that decides the incomes and profits of all railway bureaus not the market. That has been one of the largest factors behind railway departments' lack of momentum in improving service quality and technological innovation.

  What non-public funds care about most before their entry into the railway industry is whether its transaction rules are transparent and their profits are assured.

  Due to the long existence of powerful interest groups within the railway industry, all of these goals, however, are very difficult to be attained.

  One of the effects of the railway marketization reforms would be the weakening of the administration and management powers of various interest groups.

  To pursue local profits and political achievements, local governments and some large-size enterprises have been scrambling for limited railway resources.

  Thus, it is expected that any adjustment of railway productivity distribution and "leap-forward" development would invite opposition from them.

  There is no doubt that transparent railway operation rules are yet to be set up, investigation and management systems to be strengthened and perfected, interest groups to be re-aligned, and the boundaries of interests to be redefined.

  The author is a researcher at Northern Jiaotong University.




















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