New line cuts journey from Beijing to Guangzhou to just eight hours

China shows off final link in longest high-speed rail route

AFP-JIJI, Bloomberg

China on Saturday showed off the final link of the world’s longest high-speed rail route set to begin whisking passengers from Beijing to Guangzhou this week in a third of the time currently required.

The much anticipated opening of high-speed passenger service from Beijing to Guangzhou, a distance of 2,298 km, is scheduled to begin Wednesday, officials said.

Traveling at an average speed of 300 kph, the new line will slash the time it takes to travel by rail from the capital to the southern commercial hub from the current 22 hours to just eight.

Authorities took journalists for a ride Saturday on the section of the route linking Beijing’s West Station with the city of Zhengzhou, which is 693 km to the south, the route’s last link.

Hitting speeds of more than 300 kph, the gleaming, tubular train sped past frozen lakes and rivers as well as snow-covered farmland on the journey of approximately 2½ hours each way.

Though moving much faster than the country’s conventional rolling stock, the ride on the aerodynamic bullet train was smooth and made little noise other than a low-level hum during most of the trip.

The reclining seats are laid out in rows of three and two separated by an aisle, are upholstered in cloth and can be turned around so rows faced each other.

Toilets on the train are of stainless steel squat variety, with slightly more bathroom space than would usually be found on an airliner, while uniformed women were on hand to serve drinks and snacks during the trip.

“This is the world’s longest bullet train track,” said Zhou Li, a Ministry of Railways official, describing the Beijing-Guangzhou route. “It’s also one of the most technically advanced tracks in China and the world.”

The line will have 35 stops. Besides Zhengzhou, they will include other major cities such as Wuhan and Changsha. Sections linking Zhengzhou and Wuhan and Wuhan and Guangzhou are already in service.

The bullet-train line will be extended to Hong Kong in the future and will add to competition for China Southern Airlines. A flight between the cities lasts about three hours with an economy class ticket costing 1,620 yuan ($260).

A second-class train ticket on the line costs 865 yuan, while a first-class ticket costs 1,388 yuan, Xinhua news agency said.

Competition from the new railway line for airlines operating Beijing-Wuhan and Beijing-Zhengzhou flights will be intense, China’s state television reported.

China’s high-speed rail network was only established in 2007, but has quickly become the world’s largest, with a total of 8,358 km of track at the end of 2010. That is expected to almost double to 16,000 km by 2020.

But the network has been plagued by graft and safety scandals following the rapid expansion. A deadly bullet train collision in July 2011 killed 40 people and sparked a public outcry.

The accident — China’s worst rail disaster since 2008 — triggered a flood of criticism of the government and accusations that authorities had compromised safety in the rush to expand.

Authorities say that they have taken steps ahead of the new line’s opening to improve maintenance and inspection of infrastructure, including track, rolling stock and emergency response measures.

“The emergency rescue system and all kinds of emergency preplans are established to improve emergency response ability,” according to a ministry booklet handed out to journalists.

The train will be in service for China’s Lunar New Year holiday period, which falls in mid-February, when hundreds of millions of people will travel across the country in the world’s largest annual migration.

State media earlier reported that Dec. 26 had been chosen for the start of the passenger service on the Beijing-Guangzhou line to commemorate the birth of Chinese leader Mao Zedong.