A new report released by the World Bank claims that China has managed to reduce the cost of building high speed railway networks by as much as a third as a result of the standardisation of building processes, in tandem with the economies of scale achievable in the country as a result of its size.
According to the paper High Speed Railways in China: A Look at Construction Costs, China may have achieved a typical infrastructure unit cost of US$17 million to US$21 million per kilometre for a 350 km/h line, as compared to US$25 million to US$39 million in the Eurozone.
The study claims that a number of construction and engineering methodologies have played a critical role in enabling China to achieve such low building costs.
These include highly modular track laying, the use of viaduct construction techniques in lieu of embankments, as well as the mechanised casting and laying of bridge beams.
Other factors exerting a favourable influence on high speed rail construction costs include ease of land acquisition, the building of major bridges across broad rivers, and the construction of mega stations.
While China possesses the key advantage of cheap labour, the researchers behind the study said another critical factor in its ability to reduce construction costs is the economies of scale achievable in a such a vast country once building methods are standardised.
"China has accomplished a remarkable feat in building over 10,000 route-km of high speed railway in a period of six to seven years at a unit cost that is lower than the cost of similar projects in other countries," said Gerald Ollivier, a transport specialist with the World Bank.
"Besides the lower cost of labour in China, one possible reason for this is the large scale of the network planned. This has allowed the standardisation of the design of construction elements, competitive capacity for the manufacture of equipment and construction andy he amortisation of the capital cost of equipment over a number of projects."
China is now exporting the expertise it has acquired in railway construction over the past decade to other parts of the world. A new high speed rail line which recently opened in Turkey is the first that China has built beyond its own borders, with the China Railway Construction Corporation and the China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation winning the bid for the US$4.1 billion project in 2005.
The long-anticipated 533-kilometre high-speed railway link between Istanbul and the capital city of Ankara is expected to reduce travelling time between the two cities from seven hours to roughly three-and-a-half hours.