Bullet trains bring nation up to speed

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2007, 12:00am

The mainland will today roll out its new nationwide 'rail acceleration programme', which includes the introduction of bullet trains, some of which will travel up to 250km/h.

Domestic media has given the programme wide coverage in the past fortnight, declaring that it will boost the country's economic and social development.

The programme involves 18 major routes, including services between Beijing and Hong Kong. In most cases, the maximum speed will rise to 200km/h, but for services between Beijing and Harbin , Beijing and Guangzhou, and Beijing and Shanghai, the top speed will be 250km/h.

Mainland media reported that 416 trains operating on routes within the Beijing-Bohai region, the Pearl River Delta, and the Yangtze River Delta would run up to 200km/h.

Travel times to Beijing from Shanghai will be snipped by two hours, while it will take four hours less to reach the capital from Harbin. And it will take only 31 hours to travel from Guangzhou to Chongqing , down from 38 hours before the upgrade.

In addition, the amount of track around the nation with a top permissible speed of 160km/h will rise from 7,700km to 14,000km.

This is the rail network's sixth speed upgrade, the first of which was 10 years ago.

The mainland has been preparing for the 26 billion yuan upgrade since 2003. The programme is expected to increase the passenger-handling capacity of the nation's rail network by 18 per cent, and its cargo capacity by 12 per cent. The upgrade is also expected to help the country's logistics industry and ease traffic during peak travel seasons.

The Railways Ministry is also hoping the programme encourages passengers to travel by rail rather than air.

But airline industry insiders said they were well prepared for the challenge, adding that the impact might not be that big. A China Southern Airlines official said many airlines had offered discounts.

'Some discounts are even up to 70 per cent off. It means you only need to pay about 300 yuan to fly to Chongqing from Guangzhou,' she said. 'In those circumstances, flying is a good deal and as cheap as trains.'

Fares for the new bullet trains will be almost 50 per cent higher than the previous express trains and ticket sales in some cities for the faster services have been sluggish because of the high prices, according to Xinhua.

Train passengers in Shenzhen yesterday welcomed the upgrade - but not the fare increases.

'It's good to hear the trains will be faster, but I prefer to take the ordinary train rather than pay for the expensive new train,' one migrant worker said.

'I just hope the price stays the same during the Lunar New Year when I go back home, and that the trains won't be as crowded.'

Fast track

The new rail upgrade will significantly reduce travel times

Number of hours shaved off the 38-hour trip from Guangzhou to Chongqing 7