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June 25, 2010

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Faster train, higher fare

The standard ticket price for the highly anticipated Shanghai-Nanjing intercity high-speed rail line will be 146 yuan (US$21.44), 56 percent higher than the fare for the current generation of fast trains along the same route.

Shanghai Railway Bureau, which has invested in the line and will supervise rail services, released the ticket prices and operation models yesterday.

The bullet train, with a top speed of 350 kilometers per hour, will start operation on July 1, cutting the trip to Nanjing to 73 minutes from the current two hours.

People can buy tickets starting at 8am today from local rail ticket outlet booths. First-class tickets cost 233 yuan.

"It's not for ordinary wage-earners like me," said Lu Fangyue, a Nanjing citizen who graduated from a local college last year and works in Shanghai.

But Lu, who has limited his trips home to just once a year for family reunions, said the short travel time is "quite alluring."

Tao Liping, a railway spokesman, said the "higher price means better service and a faster journey."

Tao said the operation model of the intercity high-speed railways would be "more like city buses" with interval times of five minutes during peak hours.

The trains, identified by the leading letter "G," will operate both at city's Hongqiao Transport Hub and Shanghai Railway Station.

The fast trains that now run between the two cities, with the leading letter "D," travel at 200 to 250 kilometers per hour. Standard tickets cost 93 yuan and first class 112 yuan.

About 200 of the new "G" trains will come and go from the Hongqiao hub from 6:06am to 8:27pm every day starting on July 1. In addition, 44 of the current "D" trains will remain on the schedule.

Also on July 1, Metro Line 2's Hongqiao Railway Station inside the Hongqiao Transport Hub will open to the public, allowing passengers to leave the subway and board the train after 10 minutes' walk. The Metro already stops at another part of the hub to take passengers to the Hongqiao airport.

Although the fast trains are taking center stage on the Shanghai-Nanjing route, some regular-speed trains, with leading letters "T" and "K," will remain in service.

These regular-speed trains may not be enough to allay the fears of low-income riders that they'll be priced out of train travel.

"That sounds like there will be fewer options for me," said Zhang Long, a factory worker who earns a little more than 1,000 yuan per month on an assembly line.

In an online survey conducted by a local news website, about half of 1,571 respondents thought the "G" trains' 146-yuan ticket is too expensive. The other half thought the price is fine.

Sun Zhang, a professor of railway with local Tongji University, said the price is likely to change after a period of operation in response to the market reactions.

Rail officials said the bullet train trend represents the future as rail capacities can be increased greatly by the high-speed trains.

"You have to admit," said spokesman Tao. "Here comes the high-speed rail era."


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