While the mainland steams ahead with construction of its high-speed railway network amid much fanfare, complaints about the project have emerged, adding a touch of realism to the much-trumpeted plan. Passengers and analysts have criticised train services, stations, and ticket pricing, while a mainland academic has said the government's high-speed rail policies are flawed. 'The government's policies for high-speed railways are not perfect. There is a lot of room for improvement in the operation of the trains,' said Zheng Tianxiang, a professor at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou. 'The government does not have a co-ordinated policy to support high-speed railways.' Currently, passenger numbers on the country's high-speed trains suffer from insufficient connectivity, Zheng believes. Typically up to 30 per cent of rail passengers intend to interchange with other trains, but there are few convenient interchange points on the network. One reason for this is that there are still very few high-speed rail lines up and running and another is that stations serving the network are sometimes located far from other train stations - as is the case in Guangzhou. Zheng said that, as a result, the high-speed train services had lost this 30 per cent of interchange passengers. High-speed trains were crowded during peak periods such as Chinese New Year and relatively empty during low seasons, Zheng said. The scheduling of services was too rigid, he said, adding that there should be flexibility in allocating more trains to peak periods and fewer trains to low seasons and other off-peak times. Frederick Wong, chief financial officer of CIG Yangtze Ports, a GEM-listed port operator, said air travel had become increasingly competitive against the high-speed railways as airlines offered discounts to lure passengers away from the trains. An economy air ticket between Wuhan and Guangzhou costs about 1,000 yuan (HK$1,146), but airlines had been offering discounts of up to 50 per cent. An economy ticket on the Wuhan-Guangzhou high-speed train costs 490 yuan, while a first-class ticket costs 780 yuan. During this early stage of China's high-speed railway development, the government was not doing enough to subsidise train tickets to boost passenger numbers, Zheng said. 'High-speed train tickets are priced too high. Ordinary people can't afford them.' Roslyn Ji, an analyst with Core Pacific-Yamaichi, who has studied China's railway sector, also said the fares were too high: 'The general reaction to the Wuhan-Guangzhou high-speed train is that ticket prices are too high - two to three times the price of normal train tickets,' Ji said. The Wuhan-Guangzhou high-speed railway began operating last December, reducing the 968-kilometre journey to a travel time of 3?hours from the 10?hours on a standard train service. But many migrant workers still took the ordinary trains on the Wuhan-Guangzhou line because they could not afford the high-speed prices, Ji said. Wong said a friend's first-class journey on the Wuhan-Guangzhou high-speed train had left much to be desired. The Wuhan high-speed railway station was one hour by taxi from the city centre, while it was inconvenient to take a connecting journey from the high-speed railway station in Guangzhou to Hong Kong, as there was now only one bus from the Guangzhou station to the SAR each day. He also said that some passengers did not follow rules. The high-speed express rail link between Hong Kong and Guangzhou is scheduled to come into service in 2016.