Mar 17, 2014

China reveals blueprint to expand urbanisation

Apartment buildings are seen clustered together in Hong Kong's Kowloon district on February 3, 2014. Home prices in the southern Chinese city have risen by 120 percent since 2008, and by more than 30 percent from their previous peak in 1997, with prices in the luxury market being pushed up by wealthy buyers from mainland China. AFP PHOTO / ALEX OGLE (Photo credit should read Alex Ogle/AFP/Getty Images)

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China’s leaders have revealed a plan for a multiyear round of state-led infrastructure construction that they hope will prop up the economy amid flagging growth, as they move 100m more people from the rural hinterland into the country’s growing cities.

The Chinese government’s “National New-type Urbanisation Plan”, revealed on Sunday, envisions a massive building programme of transport networks, urban infrastructure and residential real estate from now until 2020.

“Domestic demand is the fundamental impetus for China’s development, and the greatest potential for expanding domestic demand lies in urbanisation,” the plan stated.While promising to make China’s urbanisation more “human-centred and environmentally friendly”, the plan also explicitly targets the boosting of headline growth at a time when China’s economy is slowing after years of frenetic credit-fuelled infrastructure and property investment.

Over the longer term, China’s leaders want to shift the country’s growth model to make it less infrastructure driven and more reliant on services and consumption, but they insist that they must keep investment levels high in the short term to guarantee employment and political stability.

About 54 per cent of China’s population lives in cities, compared with 80 per cent in developed countries and roughly 60 per cent for developing countries with similar per capita income levels as China.

The government’s plan aims to lift the urbanisation rate to 60 per cent by 2020, but this task will be complicated by the fact that many city dwellers are excluded from permanent resident status by China’s strict hukou household registration system.

Those who are born in the countryside and move to cities without securing urban hukou permits are usually not eligible to use any social services, including health, housing, education or pensions in their new urban homes.

That means that about 270m of China’s urban residents are rural migrants who live in a kind of limbo in their new homes and often return to their villages if they lose their job in the city.

This means that much of China’s urbanisation to date is reversible – a problem the government’s new plan hopes to address by gradually granting 100m of these migrant workers permanent urban hukou permits by 2020.

As part of the planned infrastructure construction, the government plans to ensure that every city in China with more than 200,000 residents will be connected by standard rail and express roads by 2020, while every city with more than 500,000 residents will be accessed by high-speed rail.

New airports will be built to ensure that the civil aviation network covers about 90 per cent of China’s population.

The plan also calls for the redevelopment of 4.75m household units in rundown shantytowns this year alone, with an expected total cost of Rmb1tn ($163bn), according to state media reports.

The urbanisation plan was originally expected to be published more than a year ago, but deep divisions between government departments and dissatisfaction from Li Keqiang, the Chinese premier, who has been a strong champion of the scheme, delayed the plan’s publication until now.

Mudslide slows BNSF rail service north of Seattle; passenger trains halted for 48 hours

SEATTLE — A mudslide late Sunday night has temporarily cut rail service on BNSF tracks north of Seattle.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas says the slide of mud, trees and debris struck about 11 p.m. between Seattle and Edmonds.

He says crews are working on the slide and expect to have freight trains rolling through the area again by early Monday morning.

But Melonas says that passenger trains between Seattle and Everett are barred from using the tracks for 48 hours to ensure they're stable.

No trains were hit or close enough to be affected by the mudslide.

Kenya: Registrar Risks Sanction Over China Rail Company

MPs have threatened to take action against the Registrar of Companies Bernice Gachegu for delaying to deregister a Kenyan company that bears name to a Chinese firm.

The China Roads and Bridges Corporation Kenya Ltd is not the China Roads and Bridges Corporation that was awarded the Sh447 billion tender to construct the standard gauge railway.

The members of the National Assembly Committee on Public Investments said they will be forced to introduce charges of abuse of office and incompetence against the registrar.

They said she assured the MPs she would delist the company when she appeared before the committee in February. The MPs said Gachegu is "playing tricks" three months after the existence of CRBC-Kenya was brought to light.

The committee chaired by Eldas MP Adan Keynan is probing the rail project's procurement process and economic viability.

CRBC-Kenya is owned by two Kenyans Peter Maingi Gatere and Leonard Mwangi Ndungu with an office in Westlands. The memorandum and articles of association are missing from the Kenyan firm's registration documents at the registrar's office. With the missing documents, it will be difficult to know the nature of work and undertaking done by the Kenyan firm.

Committee vice chairman Kimani Ichung'wah, the Kikuyu MP, told the registrar to take personal responsibility for the confusion.

"There must have been deliberate efforts by someone in your office to hide the file after the company's existence was detected. Who is covering it up? The buck stops at your office," he said.

Kiminini MP Chris Wamalwa said the "double registration" is suspect and raises uncertainty over which company won the tender.

"The registrar should tell Kenyans what she knows about the shady company. She has developed cold feet in striking off this firm from the list of registered companies, raising speculation that it could be the one that was awarded the tender through the back door," he said.

Mandera North MP Mohamed Noor said Gachegu is exhibiting incompetence in her management of the office even after the 2009 automation of information.

A computer search quickly scans prospective company owners and prevents the registration of companies with similar names.

"There is something wrong with your office. How did a company that has no memorandum and articles of association get registered under your watch?" It is not possible under the law regulating companies," said Noor.

Last week, the committee members were taken aback at revelations from the registrar that the Chinese firm that won the award has been on a loss-making streak for the last 25 years, according to its audited accounts for the years 1987 to 2012. This revelation dents the firm's credibility and ability to complete the project.

The registrar told the committee that the company recently paid a penalty of Sh61,700 for the period it had defaulted in filing its audited accounts.

Wamalwa said the registrar failed to act without delay even after being prompted by the committee in February. "Gachegu has not exhibited the required commitment in dealing with the matter," said Wamalwa.

The Companies' Act proscribes registration of entities bearing similar names but the Kenyan firm was registered in 2008, 24 years after the registration of the Chinese company.

Gachegu said that the double registration was inadvertent but admitted it could have been an inside job to hide the identity of the CRBC-Kenya by removing the documents. She said that she has written to the CID to launch investigations into the disappearance. She said her request was handled promptly with CID officer John Kuria assigned the case.

The registrar told the committee that her office wrote to the company in January this year requiring it to provide a copy of the document but had not responded.

This prompted another letter to Gakiri Moraa and Company advocates, the lawyers who incorporated the company and the company secretary to establish the identity of their clients and supply copies of memorandum and articles of association and any other relevant document.

The committee is also expected to write to the Kenya Bankers Association and Credit Reference Bureau to determine what CRBC- Kenya limited is engaged in before retreating to wrote the report.

Britain should build northern high-speed rail link sooner -report

(Reuters) - Britain should start building the northern part of a proposed 43 billion pound ($71.50 billion) high-speed rail network earlier than planned, the project's new chairman said in a report for the government.

David Higgins, who became chairman earlier this year, said on Monday that the northern phase of the project should be completed by 2027, six years earlier than planned, to better share the economic benefits of the project around the country.

The project, High Speed 2 (HS2), has divided opinion in Britain because of its cost and the possible impact on the countryside. Under current plans, the first phase of the scheme between London and Birmingham is due to open in 2026 with the second phase extension to Leeds and Manchester due to start from 2033.

Higgins, who oversaw the building of London's Olympic Park, also said a more ambitious redevelopment of Euston station, the London hub for the new link, should be considered.

Higgins' plans are in line with suggestions made in a report last year by a group of lawmakers drawn from across Britain's three main parties, which called for the northern part of the line to be built sooner than 2033.

Adani may divest 50% stake in Australia mining, rail projects

"China's utilities and banks have the equity and debt capacity to fund a project of this size and a few other banks globally have this capacity. China was involved in Clive Palmer's China First coal and rail project in the Galilee over 2009-2011, but the relationship seems to be on the backburner, probably given Clive Palmer's legal fallout with CITIC," he added.

GVK and the Adanis are the only two left as other global players got out of Australian coal mining. Last week, the world's fourth largest miner by market value, Anglo American Plc, announced it had pulled out of Abbot Point in Queensland. Anglo American's announcement followed similar decisions by BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.

Bankers said the recent fall in thermal coal prices to a four-year low was the reason energy companies were losing interest in Australian coal mining.

Railway goods line reborn as New York-style high line

Artist impression of The Goods Line.

Pedestrians should be able to walk the first section of Sydney's version of New York's ''High Line'' by the end of the year with construction due to start this month.

But the latest plans for the goods line walkway - a redevelopment of a little-used rail corridor between Central station and Darling Harbour - show it is expected to be much more than a pedestrian thoroughfare.

Pop-up bars, cafes, performance stages, ''study pods'' and electronic screens are all planned to line the border of the goods line, a 500-metre stretch linking Central with Haymarket, Ultimo and Darling Harbour.

The line - part of which will consist of raised walkways - is to be built in two stages.

The first, and northern, section of the line runs from the Frank Gehry-designed Dr Chau Chak Wing Building being built at the University of Technology, Sydney to the Powerhouse Museum.

And on Saturday, Planning Minister Brad Hazzard released new images of the southern section of the line, which will run past the ABC at Ultimo and link with the pedestrian walkway under Central and Railway Square.

"The goods line south has already generated interest in redevelopment from landowners in the surrounding area, who can see the great advantages this new facility will offer for economic and property development," Mr Hazzard said.

The goods line was originally billed as a pedestrian and cycling thoroughfare. But the images of the southern section of the goods line raise the question of how well cyclists will fit in what is shown as a busy thoroughfare, flanked by pockets for retail and live entertainment.

The president of advocacy group BIKESydney, David Borella, said the group supported the creation of places that led to good outcomes for both walkers and cyclists. But he said the design should cater for the passage of low-speed cyclists.

''Like water, cyclists will find the path of least resistance and will tend to want to use the corridor,'' Mr Borella said.

Work will begin on the northern section of the goods line this month, and is expected to be finished by November, soon after the Gehry building is due to open.

A spokeswoman for Mr Hazzard said the south section of the line would go to tender late this year, with construction starting early next year.

Ethanol Prices Surge as Rail Problems Cut Supply

A bitterly cold winter is snarling rail traffic, making ethanol transport difficult and raising the biofuel's price.Associated Press

U.S. ethanol prices are surging, as supplies shrink amid transportation constraints.

Ethanol for delivery in April rose 6.9% last week to $2.467 a gallon, the highest settlement since Dec. 4 on the Chicago Board of Trade. Prices are up 40% from a low of $1.757 a gallon reached Jan. 27.

A bitterly cold winter and rising crude-oil shipments have caused railroad traffic to back up in the Midwest, where most U.S. ethanol is made, using corn grown in the region. The snarl is preventing the biofuel from reaching the coasts, where refiners mix it with gasoline or it is exported.

"You just can't get it moved to where you need it to go," said Jerrod Kitt, director of market information at Linn Group, a Chicago-based brokerage. "You could definitely see $3 [a gallon] ethanol in the Midwest."

In New York Harbor, where shipping costs usually bump up ethanol prices by 10 cents a gallon over the Chicago benchmark, buyers are paying about $1 more per gallon, according to data from pricing service Platts. The higher prices are because railcars are so scarce, said Matt Clausen, an ethanol trader at CHS Inc., CHSCP +0.46% an Inver Grove Heights, Minn., agribusiness cooperative.

At the same time, demand from buyers such as Canada and the Philippines has remained robust because Brazil, the second-largest producer behind the U.S., is exporting less ethanol while it uses more of the biofuel, analysts said.

In November, the U.S. exported nearly two million barrels of ethanol, the most since March 2012, according to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

With rail capacity limited and demand still strong, U.S. stockpiles of ethanol are dwindling. Inventories fell 700,000 barrels in the week ended March 7 to 15.9 million barrels, the lowest level for any week in March, according to EIA data going back to 2011.

Supplies usually build up in the winter ahead of the summer driving season, but instead stockpiles are at their lowest level since December.

To compensate, the industry plans to increase production, said Neil Koehler, president and chief executive officer of Pacific Ethanol Inc., an ethanol producer based in Sacramento, Calif.

The company said in late February that it aims to restart a California ethanol plant that has sat idle for nearly five years.

Higher ethanol output would allow stockpiles to rebuild, but "the logistics issues with the railroads are not going to resolve themselves immediately," Mr. Koehler said.

The industry is also watching the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which in November proposed reducing its mandate for ethanol blending in gasoline. A final rule has yet to be announced.

A reduced mandate would hurt ethanol demand, but producers say they could handle the hit because they expect feedstock costs to stay low.

Corn futures on the CBOT are down about 35% from a year ago, trading around $4.86 a bushel. One bushel of corn yields about 2.8 gallons of ethanol, according to the American Coalition for Ethanol.

High-speed rail: make haste, slowly

California high-speed rail network
Sir David Higgins, the man who has put his reputation on the line by undertaking to deliver HS2 the way he delivered the Olympics, publishes his first detailed appraisal of the high-speed rail project. As we report, he makes some sane and important recommendations – pushing ahead to Crewe as a priority and paying closer attention to the wider network – that may go some way to meeting the reservations of the critics who wonder if this is the right high-speed rail plan. Between now and the general election next year, there is everything to play for. But there is also a danger that the need to build momentum behind this project overshadows legitimate debate about whether it is the best way to do it.

Sir David brings more than his Olympic honours to HS2. He has runNetwork Rail, so he knows how the existing track works. And he has run English Partnerships, so he has a practical understanding of the drivers of regeneration. Both of those qualifications are on show in his report, not least in his decision to launch it in Manchester, a wise recognition of the need to counter the argument that HS2 is all about bringing business to London rather than strengthening the appeal of northern centres. His message is reinforced by his plan to put the historic rail centre of Crewe back at the heart of the network as a rebuilt transport hub, and at the same time to bring the construction of the line to the town into phase one of the project. And on phase two, he calls for a regional approach to be developed jointly, rather than leaving Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool to plan in isolation. At last, instead of presenting it as a sleek way of keeping up with the global competition, HS2's advocates are talking in terms of integration.

Sir David also shows a welcome sensitivity to the critics. He stresses the need to do as much as possible to reduce the huge but unavoidable impact of building a new line. The expensive tunnels and other mitigation are protected, while the cut-price Euston redevelopment proposed last year is rejected on the grounds that, as prime London real estate, it will pay for itself. He will make more friends by giving up the hugely disruptive plan to link HS1 with HS2, a prospect that was blighting hundreds of north London homes.

But there is one question Sir David doesn't address. It is no secret now that the first plan for HS2 was an emergency response to economic crisis, one that the Tories took on to underscore commitment to the value of public spending on the right things. Unavoidably, the Higgins proposals are in part a recognition of the weaknesses of the original. But taxpayers deserve to be confident that entrenched opposition doesn't too narrowly entrench the case in favour. He must confirm that he is confident this is the best way of doing high-speed rail.
Source-the guardian

California High-speed Rail Could Face Another Challenge

California’s plan to build the first high-speed rail system in the country could face another challenge. This time it is not political opposition, an ever-rising price tag, or an angry homeowner. It is a newer technology.

The challenge comes from green transportation design company ET3. The company founder and CEO Daryl Oster, has proposed a new, magnetic tube rail system to replace the current high-speed rail plan, which he claims can be built for one tenth of the cost of traditional rail. Oster hopes to get an initiative on this November’s ballot that would authorize the state to provide the funding he needs to prove his technology is a better way to go than high-speed rail.

Oster describes his system as “space travel on Earth” and compares it to the way we as humans experience high-speed, frictionless travel around the sun, unaware that we are traveling through space at upwards of 67,000 miles per hour. The three Ts in the company name stand for Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies.

In a 2013 presentation at IdeaCity in Toronto, Oster explained that his plan is to build a tube system, that uses vacuum pumps to remove all of the air from the inside of the tube. Inside, a capsule capable of holding approximately six people, would levitate on magnets. The absence of air would create a frictionless environment which would allow the capsule to travel at very high speeds, and at only a fraction of the cost of other forms of transportation.

Oster also claims that, when fully implemented, a passenger would be able to travel from New York to Beijing in around two hours with a round-trip cost of about $100. In order to be able to do that, the capsule will need to travel at speeds of around 4000 miles per hour. If those kinds of high speeds and low costs can be achieved, it would pose quite a challenge not only to California’s high-speed rail plans, but other forms of transportation as well. He has started a consortium of interested individuals to support his idea.

If high-speed, magnetic, frictionless travel sounds a bit too good to be true, it just might be. At this point, the most obvious hurdle is that the technology has not been tried yet. Within the next two years, Oster hopes to find a three-mile stretch of land on which he can build a prototype that travels at 375 miles per hour. Within five years, he hopes to have a 300-mile network built, which connects several major cities. And in twenty years, he hopes to see his transport system used globally.

The Hanford news is reporting that ET3 has received the go-ahead from the California Secretary of State’s office to begin collecting the 504,000 signatures needed to be placed on the upcoming November ballot. If ET3 is successful, high-speed rail will face another challenge in the form of California voters who will decide which plans and which technology they want to sink their money into. If Oster’s initiative gets the thumbs-up, it would stop the sale of high-speed rail bonds and effectively kill the current plans for a bullet train.





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