Wen launches project at ceremony Work began yesterday on building a high-speed rail line that is set to halve travel time between Shanghai and Beijing to five hours. Premier Wen Jiabao presided over a launch ceremony in Beijing for the project, the costliest undertaken on the mainland since 1949. Xinhua reported it would cost 220.9 billion yuan (HK$247 billion) and that all the technology for the line would be produced on the mainland. A transport expert said the project was testimony to the breakthroughs China had made to build a railway to international standards, though it was trailing industry leaders such as Japan and France. Speaking at the ceremony, Vice-Premier Zhang Dejiang hailed the maturing of Chinese technology. The mainland rolled out its first domestically produced 'bullet train' last week. Economist Andy Xie said the high-speed line would improve significantly links between the Yangtze River Delta and Beijing and foster economic integration. The line 'is going to reduce the cost of travel. It will enhance the free flow of people.' The 1,318km line, which is expected to take five years to build, will increase the capacity of rail transport between the cities to 80 million passengers and more than 100 million tonnes of cargo a year. Trains will run at speeds of up to 350km/h. The Ministry of Railways says half the cost of the line will be met by the state-owned Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway Co. A ministry source said the rest would come from a share offering, bank loans and foreign investment, but would not say how much would be raised from each. Preparations for building the line began 15 years ago, but the lack of home-produced technology delayed its start. Advanced computer systems and high-quality tracks are required for a high-speed train to run smoothly and safely. Until now only a few countries - Japan, France, Germany and the United States - have had the know-how to make them. South Korea is also building a high-speed line, but is using French technology. A debate over whether to use conventional or magnetic levitation trains contributed to the delay. A maglev line is already operating in Shanghai. Hung Wing-tat, associate professor of civil and structural engineering at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said: 'It requires advanced technology similar to the bullet trains in Japan to build and run the high-speed line. 'If all the core technologies are developed and manufactured by mainland companies, they will have made a significant breakthrough on building a railway of international standard. 'It is important for China to have the technology to reduce its reliance on foreign nations and so it can also export the technology.' But the mainland had a way to go yet, he said. 'Bullet trains in Japan run at 400km/h. What Beijing is building now is what Japan was doing 20 years ago.'