An inter-city rail line crossing the Yuandang Lake is under construction in August 2022. [Photo by XING YI/for chinadaily.com.cn]
Some 94 billion yuan will better connect Shanghai, Suzhou, Jiaxing
A batch of new projects and policies in the Yangtze River Delta region have been launched recently to further promote regional connectivity and ease administrative barriers to unleash greater vitality in China's major economic powerhouse.
With an investment of 94 billion yuan ($13.9 billion), an intercity railway linking Shanghai, Suzhou of Jiangsu province and Jiaxing of Zhejiang province started construction in mid-July, which according to the construction plan published earlier is expected to be put into use around 2028.
Differing from existing high-speed lines providing one-stop transportation between Shanghai and the two neighboring cities, the new line will have more than a dozen of stations along the way in areas including water towns, innovation parks and new cities in the heartland of the delta region where an integration demonstration zone of 2,400 square kilometers was built in 2019.
Wang Yang, senior engineer with Shanghai Shen-Tie Investment Co Ltd, who is in charge of the construction of the Qingpu New City station, said the intercity rail will have interchange stations with two metro lines in Shanghai.
"In the future, for passengers, the intercity rail will be as convenient as taking the metro," said Wang. "But with a designed speed at 160 kilometers per hour, it's much faster than the metro."
The 170-kilometer Y-shaped rail line will be built in three parts by Shanghai municipality, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, with terminal stations connecting to the existing transportation hub of Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station, Jiaxing South Railway Station, and the Suzhou South Railway Station, which is currently under construction.
Rao Xueping, deputy chief engineer of China Railway Shanghai Design Institute Group, said, "The intercity rail will accelerate the convergence of people, goods and capital in the demonstration zone."
The intercity rail is just one in a series of railway projects that have been bundled into a multilevel rail transit plan in the Yangtze River Delta toward 2035, which was published by the National Development and Reform Commission last year.
With unified standards, the three parts of the intercity rail line will eventually join at the intersection of the two provinces with the municipality. Being called the "Watertown Living Room", the area is expected to become a showroom epitomizing the high-quality green and integrated development of the delta region.
Covering 35 sq km, the "Watertown Living Room" is laced with rivers and dotted by ponds and wetlands, and the development of the area began in June with 10 projects totaling an investment of 5 billion yuan.
The projects include dredging and connecting small rivers to form a 30-km "blue circle" of the area, building a 190-hectare rice field and a 220-hectare fishpond for demonstration of smart and green agriculture.
The most prominent project was a 60,000-square-meter exhibition and convention center called the "Courtyard on the Water" that straddles the Taipu River at the very geographical intersection point of Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang.
Wang Yongchun, deputy general manager of New Development and Construction Co of the Yangtze River Delta Integration Demonstration Zone, said the construction is expected to be completed by October next year as a celebration of the fourth anniversary of the establishment of the zone.
"The courtyard will include four exhibition halls for Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui, and the main convention hall for meetings among government officials, business executives and other professionals in the delta region," said Wang, adding that green materials and technologies will be employed in building the center.
Around the center, two innovation parks for high-tech startups, R&D facilities and a hotel complex will be built amid the rice fields and fishponds, Wang said.
At nearby Yuandang Lake, a 23-km riverside ecological restoration project has entered its third phase, and after installing plants with water purifying functions and removing blockages along the riverbank, an unimpeded green lane around the lake will be completed by the end of 2023.
"We will maintain the original flavor of the countryside in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River Delta to attract business people to meet here and researchers to work here," Wang said.
Besides concrete constructions, intangible but far-reaching changes have been taking place in the demonstration zone as 88 policy innovations on integrated development have been launched in the past three years.
Ranging from rotating personnel between different local governments and unifying market access criteria and industry guidelines to building joint environmental inspection mechanisms, cross-provincial information sharing and business certificate approval systems, most of the policies were the first of their kind in China.
Zhang Zhongwei, deputy director of the executive committee of the Yangtze River Delta integration demonstration zone, said the mission for the zone is to become an "experimental field" where unified rules and regulations are implemented to promote the mobility of different economic elements.
A total of 38 innovative policies have been set as model practices and introduced to other parts of the country, including the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, to enhance regional integrated development, Zhang said.
"Back in 2020, there were six cities in the delta with an annual GDP of over 1 trillion yuan. Now the number has come to eight, and that partly reflected the power of the integration of the Yangtze River Delta region," Zhang said. "We predict there will be 10 cities by the end of 2025. But with the structure and quality of economic growth in the delta, there is a long way to go if compared with the city clusters in Greater New York and the Tokyo megalopolitan area."
In June, an action plan to reach a carbon peak in the demonstration zone was published by the committee, which is comprised of low-carbon construction systems advocating green design, construction and dismantling processes as well as the use of solar energy and the fostering of green financing.
Despite involving a number of government agencies across different regions, all of the policies were published by one entity－the executive committee of the delta's integration demonstration zone－to make it easier for people and businesses to follow.
Wu Qing, executive vice-mayor of Shanghai, said in an August news conference that coordination on policies and plans was the grip by which the local governments can drive the high-quality development of the Yangtze River Delta.
"The integrated development of the delta region is a national strategy and must be carried out together by Shanghai and its neighboring provinces," Wu said, adding that accelerating the integration of the delta will eventually build the region into an influential city cluster in the world.