China national rail company owes more than Greece: Report

China Railway High-speed Harmony bullet trains at a high-speed train maintenance base in Wuhan, Hubei province.
China Railway High-speed Harmony bullet trains at a high-speed train maintenance base in Wuhan, Hubei province. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - China's state-owned rail corporation is more than US$600 billion (S$814 billion) in debt, reports said, almost twice the size of Greece's obligations.

The China Railway Corporation (CRC) operates the country's trains, including an already world-beating 19,000km high-speed rail network, with at least another 11,000 kilometres planned.

But according to a recently released financial report, it owed 4.14 trillion yuan (S$860 billion) at the end of April, said respected financial portal Caixin.

In comparison, Greece, whose debt crisis has threatened the eurozone and needed repeated bailouts, had an estimated public debt of 311 billion euros (S$480 billion) at the end of last year, according to the European Union's Eurostat.

CRC's borrowing increased by over eight percent year-on-year, the numbers showed, a rise driven by the country's fever for expanding the network of super-fast trains, a point of national pride.

But China has seen a decline in rail freight, a major source of CRC's revenue, the Global Times newspaper reported Thursday.

The debt number "keeps growing", Zhao Jian of Beijing Jiatong University told the paper, adding: "This business model isn't sustainable." Company losses rose 35 per cent year-on-year to 8.73 billion yuan in the first quarter, the paper reported.

China is struggling to move its economy away from its dependence on massive construction projects and exports as the main drivers of growth.

But the country's addiction to massive infrastructure injections to fuel GDP expansion has proven hard to shake.

Rail, in particular, has continued to absorb huge amounts of capital as Beijing continues to push its ultra-modern train system into sparsely populated western regions.

China's economy, a vital driver of global expansion, grew 6.9 per cent last year, its weakest rate in a quarter of a century.