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2013年9月27日 星期五

高鐵改變中國

中國高鐵由被炒作無入乘坐,至今天客流量源源不絕,
中國的事,只能在唱衰聲中用事實來說話。
運作5年,票價沒加過,
但整體人工逐步上揚,令高鐵成了一般人的交通工具。
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【註:以下為《紐約時報》23日英文版的中譯稿,刊於《紐約時報》中文網站。英文版附於文末。】
http://cn.nytimes.com/china/20130925/c25chinarail/zh-hant/
高鐵改變中國
KEITH BRADSHER 20130925

長沙的高鐵車站不到四年前啟用。每隔幾分鐘就有開往全國各地的列車,幾乎每列車都滿員,一項大規模擴建的規劃已經完成。
Timothy O'Rourke for The New York Times
中國長沙——不到四年前,這裡為全新的高速鐵路建造了一座寬敞的火車站,剛落成後幾乎無人光顧。

現在則不然。幾乎每列火車都是滿員,儘管開往全國各地的火車每隔幾分鐘就有一列。售票窗口前排着長隊,50英尺(約合15米)高的白色鋼結構屋頂帶着柔和的曲線,彷彿雲朵漂浮在出發大廳上空。一個大規模工程很快將把這個有16座站台的車站擴大將近一倍。

長沙火車站內排隊購票的人群。中國的高鐵系統發展步伐已經超過民航。
Timothy O'Rourke for The New York Times

長沙火車站內排隊購票的人群。中國的高鐵系統發展步伐已經超過民航。

中國高鐵系統投入使用僅僅五年,單月客流量已經是國內航空業客流量的將近兩倍。過去幾年裡,中國高鐵網絡的客流量年增長率達28%,到明年初,它的單月客流量將超過每月運載5400萬人次的美國國內航空系統。

在一家鞋廠打工的李小杭(音譯)每個月從廣州坐火車到430英里(約合690公里)外的長沙去探望她的女兒。以前她每年才能去一次,因為需要坐一整天的火車。現在只要2小時19分鐘。

像濱海城市深圳一家證券交易所的籌建人甄秦安這樣的企管人士,為了避免滯留機場,寧願坐着子彈頭列車前往全國各地開會。火車時速達186英里,平穩、明亮、舒適,而且幾乎永遠是準時的,甚至會提前。「我沒想到變化會這麼快。高鐵本來感覺挺奇怪的,但是現在已經是我們生活的一部分了,」甄秦安說。

中國的高鐵系統是一個出人意料的成功故事。在其他新興經濟體陷入低迷之際,有經濟學家和交通運輸專家稱,這個系統是中國經濟持續增長的原因之一。但其中也不無代價——債台高築,眾多民眾搬遷,還有一場傷亡慘重的事故。今夏兩名鐵道部高官因腐敗受審,也令人們對鐵路工程招標過程產生了不滿。

高鐵無疑改變了中國,而且往往是以一種出乎意料的方式。

例如,中國工人的效率在提高。今年由三位顧問為世界銀行(World Bank)撰寫的報告指出,中國已經有超過100座城市連入了高鐵網絡,這些城市的生產力出現了很大提高。其中的原因就是,企業發現自己距離數以千萬計的潛在消費者、僱員和競爭對手只有幾個小時的火車車程。

「我們很明顯可以看到,許多公司的運營方式在改變,」世界銀行駐北京的資深交通專家傑拉爾·奧爾利維耶(Gerald Ollivier)說。

根據世界銀行顧問的測算,生產力上升對經濟的促進作用,和其他通常會跟高鐵聯繫起來的經濟促進作用——包括節省旅客時間,降低噪音,減少空氣污染和節省燃料——看起來是相當的。

企業在北京、深圳這些比較繁華的城市設立研發中心,因為這些地方受過高等教育的年輕人很多,然後讓他們頻繁地出差去工廠——工廠建在薪資和土地成本較低的城市,比如天津和長沙,當天即可往返。通過和其他城市的客戶進行更頻繁的會談,企業還能更多地對產品做出調整,以期讓產品具備更高的附加值,這也是一個大趨勢。

長沙東籬棉麻紡織品科技有限公司的銷售經理李慶福說,往常他每年會去兩次廣州,那是中國南部的經濟中心。東籬棉麻是一家從事女式裙裝和襯衫出口的公司。這趟差的距離差不多是從波士頓到華盛頓,原來,坐火車或汽車需要翻山越嶺,單程耗時將近一整天。

現在他基本上每個月都會坐準點的子彈頭列車去一次,這種列車筆直地穿過湖南省南部和廣東省北部的茂密山林和狹隘的山谷,全程只需兩個小時多一點,中間密集分佈着長距離的隧道和混凝土高架橋。

「更多地接觸我的客戶,讓我可以即時跟上色彩和風尚的潮流。我的訂單增長了50%,」他說。

中國搬遷了大量位於鐵路沿線的居民,並在高鐵車站周邊迅速建起新的居住區和商業區。

這些新的區域一般位於城市近郊,不在市區內,但仍迅速吸引了眾多居民,這跟中國的快速城市化有一定關係。每年從農民變身為城市居民的人,足以填滿一座紐約市,過去四年來陸陸續續乘高鐵前往長沙的過程中可以很明顯看出這種變化。

原來,這座位於近郊的車站周邊有大量破敗的國有工廠,2009年末投入使用時,周圍還是一片寂靜。但到了2011年,從長沙市中心到火車站的半小時路程里可以看到將近200座塔吊。上個月的一個早上,在幾乎相同的路線上只能看到幾十座塔吊。但在火車站附近出現了一個熱鬧的新區,有住宅樓、商務寫字樓和酒店。

中國的成功也許是西方很難模仿的,這不只是因為很少有哪個地方能出現中國的高速城市化進程。中國有四倍於美國的人口,其中一大部分人生活在東部的三分之一土地上,整塊區域的面積大約相當於密西西比以東的美國。

「除了波士頓到華盛頓特區之外」,美國沒有中國那種人口密度很高的「走廊」,加州伯克利大學的土木工程教授C·威廉·伊伯斯(C. William Ibbs)說。

中國的高鐵計劃已經跟世界上最雄心勃勃的地鐵建設計劃結合到了一起,目前全球一半以上的大型隧道機正在中國大城市底下開鑿土石。這意味着大量人口可以方便地乘坐高鐵出行。不過通往長沙高鐵車站的地鐵線計劃已經被推遲,原因是隧道施工時出現了傷亡事故,這可能是中國急速發展進程的一個副效應。

新建的地鐵線、鐵路線,以及城市區域,是中國嚴重依賴「投資主導的增長」的現象的一部分。儘管中國領導人反覆呼籲朝着更加傾向於「消費主導的增長」轉變,但我們基本上沒有看到變化的跡象。今年夏天,新任總理李克強公開贊同中國進一步延伸其5900英里長的高鐵網絡,他說,在未來幾年中,中國每年將在鐵路系統上投資1000億美元,主要對象就是高鐵系統。

應付近5000億美元的鐵路總債務已經讓中國政府感到吃力,其中大部分債務都是高鐵系統產生的,資金來自銀行貸款,必須定期滾動,其頻率有時甚至達到每年一次。由於使用的是短期貸款,這些融資在國家控制的銀行系統的資產負債表上顯得風險不高,而且借貸成本也比較低,但是對短期信貸的依賴,讓高鐵系統容易受到利率上升所帶來的各種影響。

「一些業績良好的鐵路,即使可以支付現金運行成本,並且償還債務利息,但如果沒有長期融資計劃,它們幾乎也肯定無法償還本金,」世界銀行去年的一份報告說。

高鐵也對空運產生了影響。列車載客量之所以飆升,部分原因在於中國高鐵的票價不到飛機票價的一半。四、五年前開通的高鐵線路,票價一直未作調整,而同期藍領工人的工資增加了一倍多,這使得許多工人跟商界人士一樣,轉而乘坐高速列車。

高鐵開通後,航空公司基本上停運了里程在300英里之內的航班,減少了300470英里的航班。

兩位數的年工資增長,給中國人帶來了足夠多的可支配收入,使得中國國內航空客運量仍以10%的速度增長。現在中國是世界10大國內航空市場增長第二快的國家,僅次於印度。目前印度的增長正在放緩,印度盧比的匯率下跌又讓航空燃料變得過度昂貴,令航空公司難以承受。

高鐵的開通,不僅讓中國腹地的企業管理者們更加方便地接觸到更大的市場,也促使外企高管深入中國腹地尋找供應商,以應對沿海地區工資成本的激增。

「我們以前總是南下廣州去見歐洲客戶,但是現在他們來長沙的時候更多了,」長沙齊魯進出口公司的銷售主管黃寅(Hwang Yin,音譯)說。

唯一的缺點是:「高速列車現在變得非常擁擠。」

Hilda Wang對本文有報道貢獻。

翻譯:經雷、土土
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Speedy Trains Transform China
Timothy O'Rourke for The New York Times
The high-speed rail station in Changsha, China, opened less than four years ago. 
By KEITH BRADSHER
 Published: September 23, 2013
     
 CHANGSHA, China — The cavernous rail station here for China’s new high-speed trains was nearly deserted when it opened less than four years ago.

 Not anymore. Practically every train is sold out, although they leave for cities all over the country every several minutes. Long lines snake back from ticket windows under the 50-foot ceiling of white, gently undulating steel that floats cloudlike over the departure hall. An ambitious construction program will soon nearly double the size of the 16-platform station.

 Just five years after China’s high-speed rail system opened, it is carrying nearly twice as many passengers each month as the country’s domestic airline industry. With traffic growing 28 percent a year for the last several years, China’s high-speed rail network will handle more passengers by early next year than the 54 million people a month who board domestic flights in the United States.

 Li Xiaohung, a shoe factory worker, rides the 430-mile route from Guangzhou home to Changsha once a month to visit her daughter. Ms. Li used to see her daughter just once a year because the trip took a full day. Now she comes back in 2 hours 19 minutes.

 Business executives like Zhen Qinan, a founder of the stock market in coastal Shenzhen, ride bullet trains to meetings all over China to avoid airport delays. The trains hurtle along at 186 miles an hour and are smooth, well-lighted, comfortable and almost invariably punctual, if not early. “I did not think it would change so quickly. High-speed trains seemed like a strange thing, but now it’s just part of our lives,” Mr. Zhen said.

 China’s high-speed rail system has emerged as an unexpected success story. Economists and transportation experts cite it as one reason for China’s continued economic growth when other emerging economies are faltering. But it has not been without costs — high debt, many people relocated and a deadly accident. The corruption trials this summer of two former senior rail ministry officials have cast an unfavorable light on the bidding process for the rail lines.

 The high-speed rail lines have, without a doubt, transformed China, often in unexpected ways.

 For example, Chinese workers are now more productive. A paper for the World Bank by three consultants this year found that Chinese cities connected to the high-speed rail network, as more than 100 are already, are likely to experience broad growth in worker productivity. The productivity gains occur when companies find themselves within a couple of hours’ train ride of tens of millions of potential customers, employees and rivals.

 “What we see very clearly is a change in the way a lot of companies are doing business,” said Gerald Ollivier, a World Bank senior transport specialist in Beijing.

 Productivity gains to the economy appear to be of the same order as the combined economic gains from the usual arguments given for high-speed trains, including time savings for travelers, reduced noise, less air pollution and fuel savings, the World Bank consultants calculated.

 Companies are opening research and development centers in more glamorous cities like Beijing and Shenzhen with abundant supplies of young, highly educated workers, and having them take frequent day trips to factories in cities with lower wages and land costs, like Tianjin and Changsha. Businesses are also customizing their products more through frequent meetings with clients in other cities, part of a broader move up the ladder toward higher value-added products.

 Li Qingfu, the sales manager at the Changsha Don Lea Ramie Textile Technology Company, an exporter of women’s dresses and blouses, said he used to travel twice a year to Guangzhou, the commercial hub of southeastern China. The journey, similar in distance to traveling from Boston to Washington, required nearly a full day in each direction of winding up and down mountains by train or by car.

 He now goes almost every month on the punctual bullet trains, which slice straight through the forested mountains and narrow valleys of southern Hunan province and northern Guangdong province in a little over two hours, traversing long tunnels and elevated concrete viaducts in rapid succession.

 “More frequent access to my client base has allowed me to more quickly pick up on fashion changes in color and style. My orders have increased by 50 percent,” he said.

 China relocated large numbers of families whose homes lay in the path of the tracks and quickly built new residential and commercial districts around high-speed train stations.

 The new districts, typically located in inner suburbs, not downtown areas, have rapidly attracted large numbers of residents, partly because of China’s rapid urbanization. Enough farm families become city dwellers each year to fill New York City, part of a trend visible during a series of visits to the Changsha high-speed train station over the last four years.

When the station opened at the end of 2009 in an inner suburb full of faded state-owned factories, the neighborhood was initially silent. But by 2011, nearly 200 tower cranes could be counted building high-rises during the half-hour drive from downtown Changsha to the high-speed rail station. On a morning last month, only several dozen tower cranes were visible along nearly the same route. But a vibrant new area of apartment towers, commercial office buildings and hotels had opened near the train station.

 China’s success may not be easily reproduced in the West, and not just because few places can match China’s pace of urbanization. China has four times the population of the United States, and the great bulk of its people live in the eastern third of the country, an area similar in size to the United States east of the Mississippi.

 “Except for Boston to Washington, D.C., we don’t have the corridors” of high population density that China has, said C. William Ibbs, a professor of civil engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.

 China’s high-speed rail program has been married to the world’s most ambitious subway construction program, as more than half the world’s large tunneling machines chisel away underneath big Chinese cities. That has meant easy access to high-speed rail stations for huge numbers of people — although the subway line to Changsha’s high-speed train station has been delayed after a deadly tunnel accident, a possible side effect of China’s haste.

 New subway lines, rail lines and urban districts are part of China’s heavy dependence on investment-led growth. Despite repeated calls by Chinese leaders for a shift to more consumer-led growth, it shows little sign of changing. China’s new prime minister, Li Keqiang, publicly endorsed further expansion of the 5,900-mile high-speed rail network this summer. He said the country would invest $100 billion a year in its train system for years to come, mainly on high-speed rail.

 The Chinese government is already struggling with nearly $500 billion in overall rail debt. Most of it was incurred for the high-speed rail system and financed with bank loans that must be rolled over as often as once a year. Using short-term loans made the financing look less risky on the balance sheets of the state-controlled banking system and held down borrowing costs. But the reliance on short-term credit has left the system vulnerable to any increase in interest rates.

 “Even well-performing railways capable of covering their cash running costs and interest on their debt will almost certainly be unable to repay the principal without some long-term financing arrangements,” said a World Bank report last year.

 Another impact: air travel. Train ridership has soared partly because China has set fares on high-speed rail lines at a little less than half of comparable airfares and then refrained from raising them. On routes that are four or five years old, prices have stayed the same as blue-collar wages have more than doubled. That has resulted in many workers, as well as business executives, switching to high-speed trains.

 Airlines have largely halted service on routes of less than 300 miles when high-speed rail links open. They have reduced service on routes of 300 to 470 miles.

 The double-digit annual wage increases give the Chinese enough disposable income that domestic airline traffic has still been growing 10 percent a year. That is the second-fastest growth among the world’s 10 largest domestic aviation markets, after India, which now faces a slowdown as the fall of the rupee has made aviation fuel exorbitantly expensive for air carriers there.

 High-speed trains are not only allowing business managers from deep inside China to reach bigger markets. They are also prompting foreign executives to look deeper in China for suppliers as wages surge along the coast.

 “We always used to have go down south to Guangzhou to meet with European clients, but now they come up to Changsha more often,” said Hwang Yin, a sales executive at the Changsha Qilu Import and Export Company.

 The only drawback: “The high-speed trains are getting very crowded these days.”

Hilda Wang contributed reporting.

      

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