Bullet train heralds new era in rail travel
Beijing boasts that high-speed system will be faster than the wind
China declared a new era of high-speed rail travel as a home-made bullet train left Shanghai for Suzhou early yesterday morning, the first day of the sixth round of nationwide upgrades.
Railway authorities boasted the programme, which will increase the speed of trains to up to 250km/h, put the country's network on a par with international standards and would advance economic growth.
But as 280 new bullet trains across the mainland made their maiden journeys yesterday, some passengers also complained that their schedules were interrupted by delays and cancellation of some services.
Railways Ministry spokesman Wang Yongping said in an online interview that the new speeds allowed China's trains to travel faster than the wind.
'After the speed lift, our [trains] can travel at a speed of 200km/h or above. This is the limit of the world's existing railways,' he said. 'As not many countries' trains can reach the speed of 200km/h, we have achieved a world standard.'
Mr Wang said some 29.6 billion yuan had been invested in transforming the infrastructure as part of the programme. But he said the investment was expected to yield economic benefits worth more than 30 billion yuan a year by saving time and transport costs. Mr Wang added the higher speeds also would increase gross domestic profit by 20 billion yuan through the greater capacity.
Railway passenger capacity would be increased by 18 per cent, and freight capacity by 12 per cent, according to Mr Wang.
The addition of 340,000 seats is expected to sate the demand for train tickets during peak seasons, which usually fall in the three 'golden week' periods in May, October and early spring, Mr Wang said.
Despite the government's publicity campaign, mainland media has reported that tickets for the bullet trains are not selling well. Analysts said higher prices and off-peak season were partly to blame.
Cai Yanmei from the Beijing Railway Station's propaganda department said there was no obvious increase in the number of passengers using the station yesterday because it was still the off-peak season.
Mr Cai also dismissed complaints from some passengers that some services had been delayed or cancelled, saying the programme was still 'in a transition period'.
A passenger who gave only his surname as Bai said his schedule had been interrupted by a two-hour delay in a regular service from Liaoning's Shenyang to Beijing on Tuesday night. 'I asked the staff on the train why there was such a delay, they said it was an adjustment for today,' he said.
Mr Bai said he had to change his plans again after a service from Beijing Railway Station to Ningxia's Yinchuan yesterday morning was cancelled, forcing him to catch another train at Beijing's West Railway Station.
'When my friend booked the ticket, they said it was okay. But when he went to pick up the ticket a few days later, they said the service was cancelled.'