Food takes a back seat on high-speed train from Guangzhou to Beijing

Hungry passengers made to wait on inaugural trip from Guangzhou to Beijing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 December, 2012, 10:49am

The new high-speed train between Guangzhou and Beijing made its public debut yesterday. It cut travel times between the cities from 24 hours to about eight, but most of the conversation on board was less about the speed of the train than the sluggish food service.

A reporter and photographer from the South China Morning Post boarded the G80, which left Guangzhou South Railway Station at 10am yesterday for Beijing, travelling at 300km/h for most of the 2,298-kilometre trip. Another train left Beijing for Guangzhou.

The world's longest high-speed train service, it was scheduled to arrive at Beijing West Railway Station at 5.59pm but was delayed by an hour due to snow in Henan , just before arriving at Zhengzhou East Railway Station, which reduced the train's top speed to 185km/h for a good hour in the afternoon.

With about 1,000 passengers on board, there was only one dining carriage with 38 seats and four attendants scrambling to heat lunch boxes in four microwave ovens at lunchtime. Disgruntled passengers had to line up for hours for lunch boxes costing 15 yuan (HK$18) to 45 yuan.

The Post journalists had to wait for 2-1/2 hours, only getting lunch at around 2.40pm after being spotted by railway officials anxious to avoid poor reviews.

Many other passengers were still queuing for lunch at 3.30pm.

While high-speed train travel is no longer a novelty on the mainland, following the opening of the Wuhan -Guangzhou line in 2009, the opening of the Beijing-Guangzhou service is noteworthy because it will put the mainland's high-speed rail technology to the test in a range of climate conditions.

To many, the 865 yuan fare for an eight-hour train journey might not compare that favourably to the cost of air travel, but the new line is a blessing to residents of the many smaller cities between the two metropolises.

Ren Haicheng, 59, from Baoding, Hebei , was travelling with her two daughters, both doctors - one working in Guangzhou and the other in Beijing.

"I suffer from motion sickness," she said. "It took me two days and one night on a conventional train to see my elder daughter and another 24 hours for the other one so I often stocked up on motion sickness pills, but now they are only eight hours apart on a comfortable train journey. I'm really thrilled."

One of the youngest passengers onboard was a two-month-old girl from Beijing.

"High-speed rail is effective and the change of air pressure is kinder to a baby's eardrums," her grandmother said. "She hasn't cried at all and the train has been running for two hours already."

The train can also be caught from Shenzhen North Railway Station. Before the Shenzhen-Hong Kong leg of the high-speed line is completed in 2015, Hongkongers can take a subway train from Futian to Shenzhen North after crossing the border at Lok Ma Chau.

All tickets for second-class seats from Guangzhou to Beijing were sold out but there were plenty available in first class and business class. First-class tickets cost 1,383 yuan and business class ones 2,927 yuan.