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China fast-tracking more railways to spur growth; $14 billion for Suzhou

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s state planner has approved the second major urban railway project within days as it looks to shore up slowing growth in the world’s second-largest economy.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has approved a 95 billion yuan ($14 billion) plan by the eastern city of Suzhou to expand its urban rail network, Suzhou Rail Transit said in a statement on its website on Tuesday.

The project includes four urban transit lines, with a total estimated length of 137 km (85 miles).

The announcement followed reports on Sunday that authorities had given the greenlight to a 78.7 billion yuan urban rail project in the northeastern city of Changchun - the first nod for such city spending in a year after Beijing suspended some infrastructure projects due to concerns about rising local government debt.

Beijing has shifted its focus to boosting domestic demand as a trade war with the United States threatens to put more pressure on China’s slowing economy.

Data earlier on Tuesday showed fixed asset investment growth fell to a record low in January-July. Growth in infrastructure spending slowed to 5.7 percent in the first seven months from 7.3 percent in Jan-June.

Suzhou Rail Transit said construction is scheduled to start this year and finish in 2023.

In addition to providing more jobs, expanding metro lines would boost demand for steel and base metals - copper, aluminum and zinc - for use in wiring, rails and cars.

The shift to stimulus measures has raised fears among some China watchers that Beijing is returning to its old playbook of debt-fueled growth, undermining its multi-year push to reduce riskier lending practices and a mountain of debt.

($1=6.88 Chinese yuan renminbi)

($1 = 1.7134 marka)

Reporting by Lusha Zhang, Stella Qiu and Josephine Mason; Editing by Neil Fullick and Kim Coghill

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