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Roads, rails transform lives in the west

China Daily | Updated: 2017-09-05 08:57

Roads, rails transform lives in the west

A car travels along the Yan'an section of the Yanhuang Highway in August. The highway, stretching 828.5 kilometers along the west bank of the Yellow River, opened on Aug 28 and is set to benefit more than 2 million residents.[Photo by Shao Rui/Xinhua]

XI'AN-For centuries, the only connection between Mashuping village and the outside world was a narrow, meandering path deep in the mountains. Now, a highway has ended its isolation.

It takes just five minutes to walk from the village in Shaanxi province to the Yanhuang Highway, which opened this week. The road, stretching 828.5 kilometers along the west bank of the Yellow River, cost 6.9 billion yuan ($1.05 billion).

In the past, it was not easy to transport construction materials to the village, so many residents lived in cave homes. Children had to walk for hours to get to school, and if a villager became ill, they would be carried by stretcher to the nearest road, where they could be taken by car to hospital.

The lack of infrastructure meant there were no business opportunities. Persimmons would rot on trees, as there was no way to take them to market.

Due to the isolation and poverty, men also struggled to find wives. "When I got married more than 20 years ago, I was brought here on the back of a mule," recalled Shi Bianrong. "I have regretted my decision ever since."

Yet the Yanhuang Highway promises to bring prosperity to the village. Some residents plan to open guesthouses or stores along the road, which links several tourist destinations, including Hukou Waterfall and the sacred Mount Huashan.

The central government unveiled a national strategy in 1999 to accelerate economic growth in the inland west, including building a network of highways, railways and airports. Shaanxi alone now has around 5,000 km of expressways, and that number is expected to surpass 6,000 km in 2020.

The Belt and Road Initiative also aims to link the economies of dozens of countries, propelling growth.

A new bullet train service between Baoji in Shaanxi and Lanzhou, capital of Gansu province, began operation on July 9, connecting the northwest to the national high-speed rail network.

Every Spring Festival, Wang Yadong and his wife travel from Tongwei, one of the poorest counties in Gansu, to Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, where their son and daughter work. The journey used to take more than 36 hours.

"Now I take the bullet train to Guangzhou. The travel time has been cut to 11 hours," Wang, 55, said.

Shaanxi has 46 international air routes as well as freight train routes to Central Asia and Europe, and it has a free trade zone and inland port to facilitate the building of an international logistics hub, according to its Party chief, Lou Qinjian.

"Western China is an important area in the latest round of opening-up," said Zeng Zhaoning, a professor of economics at Xi'an Shiyou University. "Improved transportation infrastructure has transformed western areas and people's lives."


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