Happy travellers think train is just the ticket

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 January, 2011, 12:00am

Goodbye to smelly old buses, carsickness and traffic jams; hello to modern trains. The new Guangzhou-Zhuhai intercity railway has cut travel times in the Pearl River Delta by connecting cities along the route.

Since the 150-kilometre rail link opened on Friday, a journey that used to take one to 2 1/2 hours - depending on the city - now takes 20 to 40 minutes, and fares have been halved.

Travellers can sit back and relax on the ride from Guangzhou to Zhongshan , Zhuhai or Jiangmen . The brand new compartment offers quite a bit of comfort: consistent air-conditioning, soft-cushioned seats with plenty of leg room and attendants welcoming passengers with big smiles.

Three minutes after the train departs from Guangzhou South Railway Station, it is already running at 159km/h. With the temperature at 12 degrees Celsius outdoors, indoors it is 21 degrees. After another three minutes, the train is running at a steady speed of 197-201km/h on the track, built next to highways.

As the train glides along, the scenes outside play like a documentary demonstrating the rapid pace of urbanisation in the region. Passengers see the tangerine groves in Guangzhou's Panyu district, the car and garment factories in Xiaolan district of Zhongshan and the new residential buildings and high-rises in the city centre, all in just 20 minutes.

Zhuhai is only another 20 minutes away - barely enough time to get your seat warm.

Zhang Dongrong , 17, who has just completed his university entrance examination in Guangzhou, rode the train home excitedly, eager to see his parents again after months away. 'I'm so excited,' he said. 'In the past few months, I've grown so much as a man, but it seems the Pearl River Delta has also advanced with the new train service.'

Even before the train left Guangzhou South, chats among passengers centred on how quick the journey would be and how comfortable and cheap the train ride already seemed.

Zhong Huizhen , 18, was riding a train for the first time in her life. She could not help taking pictures constantly to record the moment. 'I've been on plenty of planes before, but never a train. I can't believe how cheap it is,' she said. She disliked intercity buses as they were inconvenient, and being stuck on a highway traffic jam was 'a real pain'.

A ticket for the 40-minute ride from Guangzhou South to Zhuhai North costs 36 yuan (HK$42) in second class and 44 yuan in first class. Trains run roughly every hour except during peak hours, when they are every 30 minutes.

A couple travelling from Hubei said the new service was almost tailor-made for them. They live at the southern edge of Zhongshan, but the Zhuhai North stop is closer to their home. On a recent trip back to their hometown of Wuhan , they took a three-hour bus ride from Zhuhai to Guangzhou; then the high-speed train ride through three provinces took another three hours.

On their way back, the couple hopped off the high-speed train from Wuhan and simply crossed a few platforms at Guangzhou South to board this train, which took them home in no time.

'We are so happy about the opening of this new service,' the husband said. 'It's perfect for us. In the past, we used to spend 2 1/2 hours on buses to Guangzhou, and sometimes the ride lasted four hours if there was a traffic jam. Now it's only 40 minutes at almost half the fare. I'm really thankful.'

The delight of the train ride to Zhuhai North turned to grumbling, however, when the train arrived.

The station is located in a barren field, and the 30-kilometre taxi ride to downtown costs 100 yuan. There are connecting buses, but they are not very frequent.

'The intercity rail isn't completed yet,' a railway employee explained. 'More tracks are being laid towards the city centre, but it will take another year or two.'