Urban Rail Development in China. The Challenges Ahead

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - asia, mode - subway/metro, mode - rail, land use - transit oriented development, economics - benefits


rail systems, China, metro lines, transit oriented development, investment


This paper provides an overview of the recent development of urban rail systems in Chinese cites and the challenges ahead. China is set to become the world leader in length of metro lines in operation in the near to medium term. In view of the large scale of this investment, a focus on the overall economic and financial viability of these systems is needed. On the basis of analytical work supporting a project investment in the city of Kunming and a study tour of urban rail systems in China, this paper highlights four areas believed to be crucial in meeting these objectives: integration of new metro systems with existing systems of public transport, a supportive overall urban transport policy, transit-oriented development, and long-term financial sustainability. The conclusion is that in all of these areas, China possesses tools that may enable the program to succeed if they are used effectively and in concert. Any issues appear to result from a lack of attention to these four areas and from a managerial focus on ensuring the completion of the construction program above all other concerns. The RMB 1 trillion investment in urban rail construction under way in China needs to be a catalyst for joint action on the issues identified in this paper (RMB 1 is approximately US$0.15). Otherwise, Chinese cities may be left with an investment that carries large long-term costs and does not deliver the crucial economic benefits expected.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Transportation Research Board, Washington, copyright remains with them.