Editorial : Demolition of Zhuhai's Tramlines

【明報專訊】THE ZHUHAI MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT issued a statement on 7 May, announcing that it would demolish the tramlines that run along a thoroughfare in the city centre.

The Zhuhai government decided to build the tramway in question in the year 2010. It had purchased then the latest technology from Italy, which was a break from the traditional method of power supply from overhead cables. Instead, power was supplied from the side of the tracks, thus ridding trams of a braid-like cable connecting to the overhead catenary. However, that Italian technology had only been trialled successfully on five kilometres of track but had never undergone trials for commercial operation.

The new technology itself had many engineering defects; it also had difficulties adapting to the rainy climate of southern China. Still, the leadership of the municipal government was steadfast in its adoption. Seen from a business perspective, it was a risky investment. Had it succeeded, it could have been replicated in other parts of China's huge market, and its production could have driven the economic growth of the entire city. But to a certain extent, it was a political decision, which if successful could have been regarded as a political achievement.

The project was fraught with inherent and applicational problems. After repeated efforts by Chinese engineers to salvage the technology, the tramway, whose completion had originally been scheduled for 2014, did not come into operation until 2017. The tramlines, which measure 8.9 kilometres, run along a thoroughfare. Since they do not link up with commercial districts or densely populated residential areas, passengers have been sparse since its opening. This has in turn led to infrequent train services, which has further affected passenger numbers.

Three and a half years into its operation, the tramway serves 3,865 passengers daily, which is one-twentieth of the designed passenger capacity. Its annual revenues from fares are merely one million yuan, but the maintenance cost is 91 million yuan. In other words, the railway loses an average of 250,000 yuan every day. Its track takes up two car lanes, posing a serious problem to road transportation. Citizens are full of pent-up frustration.

This "phantom tram" does nothing to improve transportation but has incurred losses year after year. The time between the decision to build it and the decision to demolish it spanned the tenure of five secretaries of the municipal communist party committee. Secretary Gan Lin, who decided on the project, was moved to another post. Secretary Li Jia, who implemented the project, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for corruption. Secretary Guo Yonghang, who decided to terminate the tramway, was promoted to mayor of Guangzhou. Incumbent secretary Lu Yuyin, who decided to demolish the tramlines, took office in late 2021.

Lu has been in office for two and a half years. The reasons given in the announcement for the decision to demolish the tramlines, which have been left idle for three years, are that comprehensive research has been carried out from different perspectives such as urban planning, economic benefits, social benefits and operational safety risks, and that decision-making procedures such as public participation, expert confirmation, risk assessment and legality evaluation have been carried out.

The governance philosophy and measures as shown in the Zhuhai municipal government's tramway project have given citizens a very bad impression. It is hoped that after the tramlines are demolished and the roads are restored to their former state, the urban landscape of the city and the image of the municipal government will take on a new aspect.

明報社評2024.05.13:珠海一個錯誤決定禍延13年 還路於民還欠市民一句道歉









■ Glossary 生字 /

pent-up : pent-up feelings or energy have not been expressed or used for a long time

incur : if you incur something unpleasant, you are in a situation in which you have to deal with it

span : to last all through a period of time or to cover the whole of it

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