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FEATURE STORY: Tianjin’s Future as a World Class Transport Hub
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altTianjin is one China’s main engines of economic growth. With its geographically advantageous coastal position, its proximity to the nation’s thriving capital and an annualised GDP growth of around 15%, analysts are predicting that this city will soon become one of the most important trading and financial centres in Asia.  
 
There is little doubt that the infrastructural development of the city’s transport network is absolutely crucial if Tianjin is to become increasing prominent on the world stage. The good news is that projects to renovate and upgrade the city’s transportation facilities are already well underway and they look set to bring a great deal of economic prosperity to the region over the course of the decade.
 
Tianjin Binhai International: A global aviation hub in the making
The city’s main airport has become more important both as a hub for commercial and cargo flights in recent years. Figures for 2012 showed that Tianjin Binhai International was the 24th busiest airport in China, with an estimated 8.1 million passengers flying from and to it over the course of that year. For a long time it has also been a major centre for cargo distribution to other parts of China and the rest of the world.
 
Whilst it is currently far less busy than its counterparts in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, when Binhai International’s new terminal comes into full operational use it is set to more than treble the airport’s capacity. According to one source, “when the three construction phases are complete, the airport terminal will be over 500,000 m2 and will be able to handle 40 million passengers a year”. Furthermore, “over the period of the project the airport site will enlarge from the current 25 km² to 80 km²… the airport as a whole will resemble Amsterdam's colossal Schiphol airport in size and will be able to handle over 500,000 tonnes of cargo and 200,000 flights a year”.
 
The well situated airport, which serves as the operating headquarters of Tianjin Airlines and currently offers flights to most major cities in China, has attracted a number of international carriers. At the moment, the foreign airlines operating out of Tianjin Binhai International are: Asiana, EVA Air, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Scoot, Trans Asia Airways, and for occasional charter flights, Vladivostok Air. In the past it also served as Air Asia’s primary transit point to Kuala Lumpur in the north of China before they moved over to Beijing Capital International in mid-2012.
 
With its new terminal and the construction of a second runway, Tianjin Binhai International has incredible potential to become one of northern China’s leading transit points. At some time in the not too distant future, not only will there be more commercial and cargo flights going to the current overseas destinations, travellers and businesses will also be able to access other countries in Asia, as well as Europe, directly from Tianjin. 
 
For airline operators looking to tap into Asia’s growing demand for air travel, Tianjin certainly has plenty to offer. One such individual who believes strongly in the city’s potential as a future aviation hub is Scoot CEO Campbell Wilson. In an exclusive interview with Business Tianjin last year, he pointed out that “Tianjin has huge potential. Not only is it a city of 12 million in Northern China, Tianjin is also a mere 30-minute high speed bullet train ride away from Beijing”. There is little doubt that as the city continues to grow at a staggering pace, so too will its appeal to both domestic and international transport operators.
 
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The staggering development of Tianjin’s maritime transport system 
The Tianjin Cruise Ship Terminal and the Dongjiang port area provide another platform for travellers and traders to interact with the city. According to tour-beijing.com, “the home port is capable of holding the world's largest cruise ships, designed annual capacity of 500,000 passenger trips. It has one passenger cruise terminal, hotels, post service, travel agents”. Moreover, “when completely finished, the home port will have the shoreline length of 2000 metres, and there will be six cruise births, accommodating six big international cruise ships”.
 
Seafaring passengers can already travel in and out of Tianjin to several destinations, including the relatively nearby parts of South Korea and Japan. In recent months there has been a significant amount of interest expressed by a number of big international cruise ship operators with regards to open routes which go via the Dongjing port terminal. In the near future Tianjin residents will be able to travel by sea to many other parts of the globe, and on the other side of the coin; they will also see a great deal of benefit from the increases in trade and tourism that will come from the development of the city’s maritime transportation facilities.
 
altMore fast trains and subways 
The last couple of years have seen a big expansion of Tianjin’s subway system. In addition to the ultra functional line 1, which runs straight through many of the major downtown areas, metro lines 2 and 3 now give commuters far more opportunities to get around the city. The line 9 light rail system also gives downtown residents cheap and easy access to TEDA, Tangu and other far-flung parts of the coastal area. 
 
To add to the excitement, the Tianjin Transport Committee publically announced back in 2009 that there will be more lines opening around 2015-17. Below is an illustration of the extensive subway system which is now under construction around the city: 
 
It is fair to say that the building of the super fast and sophisticated rail transportation networks is one of the most exemplifying outcomes of China’s economic rise. In conjunction to the underground train lines that are being built in many major, Chinese cities (and even some lower tier ones), there is also the ever expanding network of fast trains which will eventually span the length and breadth of the country. 
 
Tianjin is already a hub for high speed rail transport, with prolific links to Beijing, Shanghai, Qingdao and Hangzhou already well established. In the future there will also be new ultra fast lines operating from Tianjin West station to Binhai, Harbin, Shenyang and Qinhungdao respectively.
 
A brighter future for Tianjin motorists?
altUnfortunately, due to Tianjin’s rapidly rising urban population and the increased spending power of its citizens, traffic volumes around the city are noticeably skyrocketing year on year. Accordingly, it is becoming very apparent to the city’s motorists that roads are often very congested and driving around the city centre is taking longer now than ever before. Ironically, this is despite the fact that Tianjin’s roads and highway networks have grown and improved tremendously in recent years.
 
As a report by the World Economic Forum points out: “the city’s long-term growth potential hinges on its ability to address growing traffic congestion and sharpen its competitive edge”. The organisation has recommended that three major steps need to be taken in order to deal with Tianjin’s busy roads: 
 
1. Expansion of the Intelligent Transport System  (ITS).
2. Integrate better land-use and transport planning.
3. Optimise the performance and cost efficiency of public transportation.
 
If the local transportation authorities can tackle these problems over the next few years, everyone who lives or does business in this city will be much better off.  Conversely, if the situation on the roads doesn’t improve very much, at least the people of Tianjin can look forward to a world class airport, a thriving harbour and superb rail connections.
 

by Melvin Shaw
 
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