A transport and power systems failure caused by coal shortages has raised questions about whether China’s infrastructure is ready for the large amounts of investment attracted by its rapid growth.

The crisis, in the final days of January, left millions of people stranded, closed factories and caused widespread economic disruption. Infrastructure ground to a halt as 77 million people were affected by train stoppages and airport closures of up to four days.

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Although the power failures occurred during the worst winter weather China has experienced for 50 years, there is still concern that the nation’s infrastructure has not developed in line with its rapid economic growth.

Half a million army troops were deployed to help with the chaos caused by snowfall no deeper than a foot which nevertheless overloaded China’s coal-powered electricity grid, plunging many cities and millions of businesses into darkness.

Lunar New Year celebrations further complicated the crisis as railway officials estimated a record 178.6 million people would travel by train for the celebration.

According to research analyst Business Monitor International, China’s infrastructure development plan up to 2010 focuses primarily on developing major projects, which include port-related construction, road and transport infrastructure, oil utilities and development of water infrastructure.

Special emphasis is beingplaced on airport development and upgrade work. By the end of 2007, China expects to complete work on as many as 73 airports, taking its total to 220.

However, despite the rapid rate of construction, infrastructure development suffers from poor labour conditions and long overdue environmental and regulatory reforms.

China’s public infrastructure construction is developing better than that of India, Indonesia and the other developing countries, says Geng Xiao, international economist at the China Development Bank’s John L Thornton China Center.

“Although China has already had big successes in medium and long-term public infrastructure, studies point out that we still need more efficient investment in long-term public infrastructure construction, and the current success only reflects our past efforts,” said Mr Xiao.