Rail Transit Development of the Pearl River Delta Planning, Obstacles and History
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A new round of regional planning was conducted from 2014 to 2016 by the provincial government of Guangdong, providing an overview of the regional transportation development and history. Major problems in the Pearl River Delta (PRD) railway network are identified: the inconsistencies between railway planning and land use, lack of transit-oriented regional policy, issues regarding the competition and compatibility of different methods of transportation by rail. This paper incorporates the following solutions which include direct connection of major regional business centers, improve railway and land use synergy, integrate railway and underground subway system and also discusses the future of railway transportation in densely populated areas.
KeywordsPearl River Delta (PRD) Rail Transit Planning Intercity Transportation Megacity
With the rapid development of urban rail transit and intercity railways, rail transit has played an increasingly important role in shaping the urban and transportation landscape of China’s densely populated regions. The Pearl River Delta (PRD), located in South China, covers an area of 54,754 km2, has a population of 57.15 million and per capita GDP of about $15,000. Since 1990, there have been four major regional planning sessions in the PRD region, conducted, respectively, in 1994, 2004, 2008 and 2014. From May 2014 to December 2016, a new round of regional planning  was carried out with the guidance of the Guangdong provincial government, and the major encountered problem was the railway network planning.
Large scale railway and subway networks are being planned and built in the PRD. To support the new round of planning, we utilized big data gathered from cell phones to analyze and determine the connectivity of city pairs. The integration of rail and subway networks is especially important in the PRD area as the cities are located in close proximity to each other; however, the required time in order to build a system of such scale is long and demanding.
2 Transport Development and History in the PRD
Regional Railway Comparison
Yangtze River Delta
Area (10,000 km2)
Rail density (km/100 km2)
Currently, the roadway transportation including private vehicles and intercity buses dominates the regional transport in PRD. In order to facilitate changes in transportation modes and support the sustainable development of rail transit networks in the region, governments should set up a policy to discourage the use of private cars and allocate more resources and priorities on public transit, especially urban rails and intercity railways, to make the transition more efficient and sustainable.
3 Problems Regarding Intercity Railway Planning
The first problem is that the planned regional railway networks deviate from the current travel and commuting patterns and is not well connected with the regional work and commercial centers.
Shenzhen needs more direct connection to other cities (Huizhou, Dongguan, and Zhaoqing, etc.). As a major production and economic center in the PRD, Shenzhen does not have enough railway connection to match its economic scale. The current network planning is still solely centered around one city, Guangzhou.
- 2.There is a lack of emphasis on radial lines connecting regional business centers which conform to the current commuting pattern, and there is no commuter railway plan for the region. As we can see from the railway network of Tokyo (Fig. 6), it has more than 20 lines “radiating out” from the Yamanote circle line, which basically defines the main city center and business centers of Tokyo.
There is a lack of consideration on land use synergy or land development strategy. The connection to regional airports and major railway stations is strong, but not to the regional employment centers. Based on the observation and theory of mode choice, intercity rail service is more sensitive to the service level, the high density resulting from the merge with long-distance travelers correlates to less enthusiasm for intercity travels.
- 2.The second problem is the lack of a strong transit-oriented policy, railway stations and new land development are not in synchronization . The first line of the PRD intercity railway, Guangzhou–Zhuhai intercity express opened in January 2011, since then the ridership has seen a steady rise of 23% annually (Fig. 7), but there is also an anomaly in the two stations of Jiangmen and Xinhui, which encountered a decline of passengers in 2013. This reflects the competition with other transport, especially from the expressway systems; upon further investigation and local interviews, the reason is that the two stations are located on the fringe of the city to the south, while the city’s new development area is in the north of the old city. (The volume from Zhuhaibei moved to Zhuhai station after the opening of new businesses in 2013.)
- 3.The third problem is the competing interests of different lines in the same corridor, which calls for better coordination and integration. The competition between high-speed trains, intercity trains and subway lines could lead to over-construction and problems affecting sustainability. For example, between Guangzhou and Shenzhen (Fig. 8), there are at least four different modes of rail, including the Guangzhou–Shenzhen railway, the GZ–SZ–HK high-speed rail and the intercity rail. There are also several planned subway lines connecting the cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
4 Regional Travel Pattern in PRD Analyzed by Big Data
5 Solutions Toward Building a Sustainable Network Connecting the Region
5.1 Direct Connection High Density Areas in the PRD
Direct connection between high-level centers (public centers or business centers).
Make land use adjustment around transit stations and building transfer or commercial hubs.
5.2 Regional Transit-Oriented Policy
Land resources surrounding a rail station is a highly coveted asset that local governments have in their control, while the construction and sustainable operation of the intercity lines needs TOD (transit-oriented development) measures to capture the land value appreciation, which has been widely used in Japan and Hong Kong .
Provide economic incentive for public transit usage. Limit the growth of private automobiles by using congestion pricing or parking charges to discourage private modes of transport. In addition, lower railway or transit prices to increase the transit ridership
Create a transit-oriented spatial development strategy. Incorporate a thorough planning and improve the design of mixed-use developments within 800 meter radius of railway stations with high density.
Build a seamless transfer network, improve the transit services. Establish a multilevel transit structure, for the eastern part of the PRD region, regional intercity rail and commuter rail constitute the main network, while in the less-developed western part of PRD, light-rail network and BRT system should also be considered
5.3 Combined Rail and Subway System Network in PRD and System Integration
The intercity railway of the PRD is still in its initial stage, and the integration with other railway systems such as the urban metro system or the national high-speed railways are desirable. The integration of these three systems will improve the operational efficiency and reduce transfer time between the lines. There is already a national railway on the intercity railway track from Zhuhai to Guilin.
Several measures could be used and better integration is proposed.
First, enhance the compatibility of different modes or railway cars. One of the limiting factors is the kind of railway cars being used. CRH6, the train that is designed to operate along the PRD intercity line is adapted from the China Railway High-speed (CRH) platform and is not as flexible as the subway express train, which can be run on other urban subway tracks and share the same station or fare system. The recently opened No. 11 express line of Shenzhen shares the same speed of the intercity lines (more than 100 km/h) but is an integral part of the subway systems.
Second, the combined operation of different railway companies. In the PRD, there are three different entities in charge of the operation of different rail networks; they are the national railway company, the PRD intercity railway company, and the municipal subway company for individual cities. The unification of different operations and the use of uniform transit cards are crucial for the public and should facilitate rail system integration.
6 Future Work
In conclusion, further land use, railway network integration and synergy should be studied in order to promote a more sustainable and harmonious railway and urban development. Likewise, more data other than cell phone usage can be used for research; new methods such as big data and machine learning could be employed, so as to urge more data-driven analysis and better planning and informed decision making.
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