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China Scraps Plans for Extension of Magnetic Levitation Railway - 2004-01-16

China has scrapped plans for a high-speed magnetic levitation railway between Shanghai and Beijing, just two weeks after inaugurating a similar system within the city of Shanghai.

The announcement of the cancellation appeared Friday in state-run newspapers. The reports quoted Chinese transportation officials as saying the government would instead seek to modernize China's overextended rail system using more conventional, less-expensive, high speed wheel-track technology, such as that currently used in Japan and France.

The news came as the busy Lunar New Year holiday travel season is approaching. Officials estimate 800 million people will travel to their home provinces in China over the next few days, most of them by train.

At Beijing's main railway station, hundreds lined up Friday in freezing temperatures, hoping to secure tickets for home. With the New Year festival less than a week away, most of the cheaper class fares are already sold out.

Chu Yanyan, a Beijing resident in her 30's, says she is trying to book a seat to Nanjing, but doubts she will find anything she can afford. Everyone, she says, wants the cheaper seats. She says China's decision to abandon plans for the mag-lev railway to Shanghai was not necessarily bad news.

She says, people who travel by train are workers who usually do not have much money, so they would not be able to afford anything like mag-lev tickets. Ms. Chu, says the high speed train might be good for some, but most people fight to get the cheapest tickets.

It was estimated that the Shanghai-to-Beijing railway would have cost China $14 billion to build.

Some people say the government was jumping ahead of itself by proposing such an expensive system at a time when China is still a developing country, with a per capita income of around $1,000.

German companies have spent billions to develop the mag-lev technology, but have had difficulty selling it due - in large part - to its set-up cost.

Two weeks ago, China became the first nation to operate a mag-lev railway commercially, when officials inaugurated a 30-kilometer-long line between downtown Shanghai and the city's airport.