A passenger proudly displays her train ticket in Shanghai on Thursday at the launch of the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway. TANG YANJUN / CHINA NEWS SERVICE
BEIJING – High-speed trains linking Beijing and Shanghai made their passenger debut on Thursday, extending China’s high-speed rail network to nearly 10,000 km.
Premier Wen Jiabao attended the railway’s opening ceremony at Beijing South Railway Station and boarded the first train to Shanghai.
The high-speed line, built in only 38 months and open to traffic one year ahead of schedule, marked a new chapter in China’s railway history, he said.
But railway operators must prioritize safety and improve management, as the line’s “safe, scientific, orderly and efficient operation is a challenging task”, he said.
Launched on the eve of the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party of China, the railway started operations with a sleek-nosed white train leaving promptly at 3 pm from the station’s No 1 platform for Shanghai. Passengers checked in at the station’s No 1 check post before boarding.
The line, designed for speeds of 350 km/h but running initially at 300 km/h, halves the travel time between the country’s two main cities to just four hours and 48 minutes.
“The high-speed train is fast and more comfortable than a plane, as I can move around and it provides sockets for charging my laptop,” 30-year-old Cheng Yu, a businesswoman from Beijing, who usually flies to Shanghai, said. She bought a train ticket online this time to experience the speed.
“The service on the train is as good as on the plane. If they improve the food and prepare pills for people like me who feel a little dizzy at first, I would consider zipping between Beijing and Shanghai by train from now on,” she said.
The train attracted many fans who avidly snapped photos of every detail to share with friends online – from signs to handlebars and especially the display panel recording the speed.
Train enthusiast Piao Qichao, 26, said any memorabilia from the train or journey was worth collecting. He even bought another train ticket, from Beijing to Langfang, just to keep as a souvenir.
The fast link will be able to carry 80 million passengers a year – double the current capacity on the 1,318-kilometer route – and frees up the old line for the transportation of goods.
“The train will reshape China’s future economic dynamics,” Zhang Xingchen, deputy president of Beijing Jiaotong University, said.
As it is able to compete with airlines in terms of comfort, service and journey time, it will change people’s travel habits, he said.
One-way tickets cost 410 yuan ($63) to 1,750 yuan, subject to the speed and seat category, compared to about 1,300 yuan for a flight.
In response, airlines have slashed some ticket prices by up to 65 percent to 400 yuan, the cost of the cheapest rail pass, according to travel website ctrip.com.
Experts estimate that the high-speed railway will take 20 to 30 percent of passengers from airlines.
AFP contributed to this story.