|Construction has begun on a second railway linking China's northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region with inland cities, the railway company in Xinjiang announced Thursday.
The new line, stretching 1,776 kilometers from Lanzhou, capital of the northwestern Gansu Province, to Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, will run parallel to the existing Lanxin Railway linking Xinjiang with the northwestern provinces of Gansu and Qinghai.
The new line will be used exclusively for passenger services while the old Lanxin Railway will be reserved for freight trains, said a spokesman with the Xinjiang branch of Lanxin Railway Company.
The 143.5 billion-yuan (21 billion U.S. dollars) railway is expected to become operational in 2013.
"By then, trains will be traveling at 250 kilometers, cutting the journey from Lanzhou to Urumqi to 10 hours from the current 20," said Jin Di, an official in charge of railway construction in Xinjiang's Hami Prefecture.
Meanwhile, a journey from Urumqi to Beijing would take about 12 hours compared with the current 40.
Construction of the 567-km Xinjiang section, which will include 202 bridges, 14 tunnels and 12 stations, began Thursday.
Construction of the Qinghai and Gansu sections began in March.
Xinjiang, a vast region in China's far west, boasts rich oil, coal and other resources and is the country's major cotton producer. Lanxin is the only railway linking Xinjiang and other parts of China.
About 30 million tonnes of coal would be transported from Xinjiang to the eastern regions this year, said Wu Jiachun, deputy chief of the regional coal industry bureau. "The volume will hit 50 million tons in 2012."
Railway officials said the new rail line would break the bottleneck of transport for Xinjiang in its economic development, ease the pressure on the Euro-Asian continental bridge and facilitate exchanges between China and its central Asian neighbors.