Str  /  AP
A guide shows a train using magnetic levitation in this October 2003 file picture taken in Shanghai. One of the major projects announced Monday will use this futuristic technology to link Shanghai to a nearby city. A second project will provide an 800-mile long high-speed link between Beijing and Shanghai.
updated 3/13/2006 7:32:48 PM ET 2006-03-14T00:32:48

China announced Monday it will spend $22 billion to build two of the world’s most ambitious railway-building projects — the nation’s second magnetic levitation train and a high-speed railway linking Beijing and Shanghai.

The announcements had been eagerly awaited by European and Asian makers of railway equipment, which are looking to China for potential sales as the government pushes ahead with plans to add thousands of miles of high-speed lines to its network.

But China did not say what role foreign suppliers might play.

The 820-mile Beijing-Shanghai link will use wheeled trains traveling at up to 220 mph, said an announcement by the country’s top industrial planning agency, the Cabinet’s National Reform and Development Commission.

The announcement did not say when the line would be built or give a cost. But the official Xinhua News Agency said Railway Minister Liu Zhijun put the price last week at $17.5 billion.

Japan lobbied China to use its Shinkansen bullet train technology for the line, while France pitched its TGV system and Germany tried to sell its maglev technology.

But China said it wants to build the line with domestic technology adapted from systems overseas. The NDRC said the Beijing-Shanghai project would be built and operated by a corporation financed by Chinese and foreign investors.

At least 70 percent of the railway’s components will be Chinese-made, deputy railway minister Sun Yongfu was quoted by the Beijing Morning Post newspaper as saying Sunday.

The new 110-mile maglev line from Shanghai to the nearby city of Hangzhou is due to be completed by 2010 at a cost of $4.3 billion, Xinhua reported.

The world’s only commercially operating maglev train, built with German technology, links Shanghai’s main airport with its financial district. Maglev technology uses powerful magnets to suspend a train above a track and propel it at speeds of up to 260 mph.

China is in the midst of the world’s biggest burst of railway construction, adding thousands of miles every year in an expansion that rivals the building of the railroads in the 19th century American West.

Ties that bind
It is hoping to ease congestion, promote economic growth in isolated areas and bind restive regions such as Tibet and the Muslim northwest more closely to the rest of China.

China plans to build more than 7,500 miles of high-speed railways at a cost of $250 billion-$310 billion, according to Xinhua.

Foreign suppliers have seen limited opportunities in China, which produces its own sturdy, low-cost railroad equipment and is racing to develop high-speed technology.

China depends more on foreign suppliers for magnetic levitation, or maglev, which German and Japanese firms spent decades and billions of dollars developing.

Monday’s announcement did not say which technology China would use for the new maglev line. But earlier news reports quoted Chinese officials as telling German visitors it would be Germany’s system.

Hangzhou is currently about two hours from Shanghai by train, at the center of a growing high-technology corridor attracting foreign telecommunications and computer companies.

Quicker access by maglev could make the city more attractive to foreign companies by bringing it within easy reach of Shanghai’s major international airport.

The first railway to Tibet, built across permafrost on the lofty Tibetan plateau, is due to start operation this year. The government says the train is to use special cars sealed like aircraft to protect passengers from the thin air as it crosses mountain passes up to 16,500 feet high.

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