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May 12, 2011

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Curtains mystery as high-speed trials begin

MYSTERY surrounds bullet trains serving the newly built high speed railway between Shanghai and Beijing, after they began month-long tests yesterday with some carriage interiors hidden by curtains.

Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station, the major terminal for the service, saw the first train in the test leave at 8:45am. In total, 18 services departed from the Hongqiao station yesterday, with the last leaving at 5pm.

On the trial trains, curtains were apparently covering "VIP carriages." Earlier reports said at least some VIP carriages would be removed, creating space for more standard seats.

This follows criticism that China's high-speed rail services are too expensive for many ordinary travelers.

Reporters were not permitted to examine the trains yesterday and passengers will not be carried during trials.

Mindful of the high-speed service's rival for passengers between Shanghai and Beijing, the rail authorities insisted that the service will "be comparable to that on airplanes."

Indeed, a glimpse into a business suite carriage revealed plush red seats, complete with a side light and an impressive array of buttons on the armrests.

During yesterday's test run, the fastest journey along the 1,318-kilometer route from the Hongqiao station to Beijing South Railway station took four hours and 48 minutes at a speed of 300kph, officials said.

Emergency drills will also be held during the month-long trials.

There will be two different services - offering trips at speeds of 300kph and 250kph - on the route. Ticket prices are expected to be cheaper on slower trains.

While ticket prices for the new high-speed railway have not been announced, in preparation for the competition, some airlines are offering discounts. The standard price of a single air ticket between Shanghai and Beijing is 1,290 yuan (US$198), and it is speculated that a bullet train single ticket will cost half that price.

There will be 180 services a day between the cities during the first stage of operations of the new line. In addition, there will still be 260 services operated by regular trains.


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