Visitors look at the latest models of urban rail trains shown at the International Urban Rail Exhibition in Beijing.
More cities, including smaller ones, rush to expand their metro systems
A growing number of Chinese cities have released plans to develop urban rail transit systems, especially subways, which are known for their safety and speed, to ease traffic, boost employment and push the pace of urbanization.
By the first half of 2017, 31 cities in China had urban rail transit systems in operation with 133 lines and a total length of 4,400 kilometers, according to data from the Beijing-based National Federation of Metro Transportation.
The country invested 384.7 billion yuan (.29 billion) in the urban rail transit sector in 2016, up 4.5 percent year-on-year, with major cities including Wuhan, Shanghai, Chengdu and Guangzhou investing more than 20 billion yuan.
"Though the investment in urban rail transit is now only half of that in the railway business, the figure will be close to and even exceed that of railways sooner or later," said Song Minhua, secretary-general of the China Association of Metros in Beijing, an organization under the supervision of the National Development and Reform Commission, or NDRC, the country's top economic regulator.
According to a report by the association, there are now 23 cities with more than 100 kilometers of unban rail transit lines under construction. Meanwhile, Chengdu, Wuhan, Qingdao and Beijing each have more than 300 km.
"Cities such as Chengdu, Wuhan and Zhengzhou have all put forward plans to expand their urban rail transit systems to 500 km. The scale is larger than what Beijing and Shanghai planned during the 2008 Olympic Games and the Shanghai World Expo in 2010," Song said.
The association estimated that China's accumulated operating length in the urban rail transit network, which includes subways, light rail, single track trains, modern trams, urban rail rapid transit and maglev, may jump from 3,612 km in 2015 to 7,700 km in 2020.
To ensure sustainable development in the transport sector, the Ministry of Transport and the NDRC released a three-year plan for major transportation infrastructure construction projects (2016-18) in May 2016.
The plan included a combined investment of 4.7 trillion yuan, with 1.6 trillion yuan for urban rail transit projects, exceeding the 1.2 trillion yuan during the whole 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) period. Under the plan, the country will carry out 103 projects and build 2,000 km of new urban rail lines.
Urban rail systems have become the most important means of commuting in first-tier cities. In Beijing's urban area, about 86.6 percent of commuting traffic currently is via the mass transit railways. The number is even higher in Shanghai, reaching 89.1 percent.
The first subway line in China was Line 1 in Beijing, which opened in 1969. It runs west to east in parallel with the Chang'an Avenue in Beijing. It is still one of the world's busiest metro lines, with a daily ridership of 1.4 million.
Beijing now has 19 urban rail lines totaling 574 km. More than 10 million passengers ride the Beijing metro every day during the workweek.
In 2016, the 15 subway lines operated by Beijing Subway Ltd transported 3.03 billion people, up 6.81 percent year-on-year, according to information on the company's website.