Passenger train compartments are loaded from a ferry near Haikou's main train station. Photo: China News Service

Another mega project is in the making as Beijing aims to marshall bullet trains across a 33-kilometer strait to bring the tropical resort island of Hainan into the nation’s sprawling high-speed rail network.

The centerpiece of the multibillion-yuan rail link is a double-decked road-rail sea-crossing bridge between Haikou, Hainan’s provincial capital, and Zhanjiang in Guangdong province, which will traverse the Qiongzhou Strait, a billowing channel usually battered by typhoons in summer.

China Railway Co has reportedly convened a feasibility study for the bridge and Beijing is expected to give its go-ahead. Chinese engineers look to replicate their expertise and experience gained from building other mega projects during the decade-long infrastructure bonanza, from the 36-km sea-crossing bridge linking Ningbo to Shanghai in eastern China to the 55-km Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge commissioned in October.

The major challenges facing constructors, however, are strong gales and waves which may dislodge bridge piers, a complex terrain and a trench on the bottom of the strait, which will mean extra piling work.

The Qiongzhou Strait separating Hainan from Guangdong. Photo: Google Maps
The train-ferry service across the Qionghai Strait. Photos: Xinhua

Tourists who flock to the sea-locked Hainan, dubbed China’s Hawaii, can now only travel in planes or ferries, despite the fact that the island operates its ring express railway network.

And, as a stopgap measure in the absence of a bridge, trains heading for Guangdong and elsewhere must be detached into separate passenger compartments and towed aboard purpose-built, 23,000-ton ferries to cross the strait before continuing their journey to their final destinations. Still, storms in the typhoon season between April and October and winter mist can easily snarl the train-ferry service.

Hainan saw a huge tailback of vehicles with tens of thousands of passengers and tourists stranded at Haikou’s ferry pier during last year’s Chinese New Year break when heavy fog sealed off the strait for almost a week.

Last year was hailed as a banner year in Hainan’s development, when Beijing unveiled ambitious policy initiatives to transform the economic backwater into a free trade zone and financial hub, a backdrop against which the massive strait bridge project was proposed.

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