China eyes $127.3b rail spending in 2013: State media

BEIJING (AFP) - China will sharply increase planned railway investment in 2013 to more than US$100 billion (S$122 billion), state media cited the railways minister as saying on Thursday, as part of plans to boost the economy.

The Ministry of Railways will spend 650 billion yuan (S$127.3 billion) this year, the Xinhua news agency said, citing minister Sheng Guangzu as saying at an annual national work conference.

That marks a 30-per cent increase from the planned investment of 500 billion yuan for 2012.

Actual rail investment in China usually turns out higher than the planned budget as Beijing has a tradition of increasing spending on infrastructure to bolster economic growth.

Economists, however, say they expect big ticket public works to become less of a factor in coming years as Beijing seeks to rebalance the economy toward more consumer-driven growth.

In the first 11 months of last year, actual investment in the rail sector hit 507 billion yuan, according to official data, already exceeding the 2012 target.

A rail investment boom started in 2003 when ex-railway minister Liu Zhijun, who was sacked in 2011 and is awaiting trial over alleged corruption charges, took office.

The government scaled back its investment plan last year after Liu's ouster, a train collision in July 2011 that killed at least 40 people and difficulties in raising funds.

The collision was China's worst rail accident since 2008 and sparked a torrent of public criticism that authorities compromised safety in their rush to expand the network.

The ministry held 2.66 trillion yuan in debts by the third quarter last year, or 61.8 per cent of its total assets, previous Chinese media reports said.

But investment rose month by month in the second half of 2012, with more than 100 billion yuan added to the budget, the reports said.

China's growth hit a more than three year low of 7.4 per cent in the three months to the end of September partly due to weak foreign demand for Chinese goods, marking a seventh-consecutive quarter of slowing.

By the end of 2012, China had 98,000 km of railways in operation, the second-longest network in the globe, and 9,356 km of high-speed lines, the world's longest, Mr Sheng said, according to Xinhua.

A total of 5,200 km of new lines will be put into operation this year, he said.

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