Zhuhai wants Crossbay Railway, ASAP

The western side of the Greater Bay Area still struggles with connectivity issues, and speedier progress is needed in linking it to the eastern side. So says the CPPCC of Zhuhai. 

Fortunately, there is a plan on the drawing board that could alleviate this challenge, according to Pan Ming, deputy chairman of the city’s CPPCC, quoted by the Zhuhai Daily. It is the proposed Crossbay Railway, otherwise known as the Shenzhen-Nanning High-Speed Railway (Shennan). This incredible project, which would be built entirely under the seabed across the Pearl River Delta, has its engineering challenges, but Pan believes it has been researched thoroughly and provides the best available solution.

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Without putting words into Pan’s mouth – and it should be noted he was speaking on behalf of the entire Zhuhai CPPCC – it would seem that progress on the project has not been fast enough. Pan’s statement observed that the project fits into goals set by the Greater Bay Area’s Three-Year Plan, announced in July by the provincial government, and that the National Development and Reform Commission had endorsed it. Now it was time to accelerate its commencement, which cannot happen soon enough from Zhuhai’s perspective, the statement seems to be saying.

If so, we would understand Zhuhai’s exasperation. As the HZMB approaches its one-year anniversary, the world’s longest sea crossing is proving to be less than a godsend for the western side of the Bay. There are many reasons for this, including that it is too soon to judge the low volumes of traffic on it. Supporting infrastructure – mostly access roads – still needs to be built. Yet it is undeniable that Zhuhai, and its neighbors of Jiangmen and Zhongshan, could do far better with a crossbay transport link that plugs directly into the Bay’s most powerful growth engine, Shenzhen. Not one that goes to the Hong Kong International Airport. Not one that only carries vehicles. And not one that gets shut during typhoons.

As we have written before, there is a new crossbay link under construction that will make a dramatic difference to traffic between the two sides when it opens, in 2024. The Shenzhen-Zhongshan tunnel-bridge project goes partly under and partly above the Bay. It will carry vehicles and trains. Shenzhen will be much better connected to Zhongshan, and Jiangmen, when this happens.

That simply isn’t good enough, from Zhuhai’s perspective. The city makes a compelling case for the greater good, of course, pitching the Shennan Railway as part of a bigger project to link the eastern and western sides of the province. Yet it is pretty clear that what is needed is a high-speed railway – not a bridge – that makes leafy Zhuhai the suburb of choice for people who don’t fancy paying exorbitant prices for housing in Shenzhen. A 20-minute train journey from Qianhai would do the trick.

This has all been argued before, perhaps countless times. Which is why we were surprised to read the lengthy, detailed article this week in the Zhuhai Daily. Here is a quote from the article (our translation):

“The Zhuhai Municipal Committee of the People’s Republic of China pointed out that at present, the Guangdong, Hong Kong, Macao and Dawan District still has many problems in the interconnection and intercommunication of transportation infrastructure, which is reflected in the fact that the construction of the crossbay channel is seriously lagging behind the development needs of the Bay Area. The resulting economic development of the West Bank of the Bay Area is relatively lagging behind, and the coordinated development of the regional economy needs to be improved.”

Then it gets down to the nuts and bolts: “So far, the Shenzhen-Zhuhai Passage has not yet specified the high-speed rail planning function. The west coast of the Bay Area lacks a high standard of coastal high-speed rail to support the construction of a new pattern of “one nuclear, one belt and one district” regional development in Guangdong Province. Therefore, the Zhuhai Municipal Committee of the People’s Republic of China believes that the consensus of all parties should be condensed as soon as possible, and the passage of the Shenzhu Passage should be clearly defined.” 

But it’s not a case of complaining without offering solutions. The statement continues, saying that the Zhuhai Municipal Committee of the People’s Republic of China stands ready to help in any way possible, and to “provide support for the communication work with the provincial and national relevant ministries”.

Could it be a question of money? Are the central and provincial governments having to be more realistic about what they can afford to build? We cannot possibly know. But one thing is for sure: Zhuhai is not going to let this dream go without, er, speaking up about it.

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