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September 29, 2010

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Shanghai-Hangzhou trial sets train speed record

A NEW high-speed train from Shanghai to Hangzhou started trial operation yesterday, setting a world train speed record of 416.6 kilometers per hour.

This latest addition to the nation's rapidly expanding rail infrastructure, the China-made CRH380A, will cut the current travel time to Hangzhou from 78 minutes to 38 minutes.

Trains on the 160-kilometer line - running from Shanghai's Hongqiao Railway Station to east Hanghzou, capital of Zhejiang Province - will run at 350 kilometers per hour and are expected to carry 80 million passengers per year.

The ticket price, still under discussion, will be announced 10 days before the route's official opening, in late October.

The completion of the almost 30 billion yuan (US$ 4.4 billion) project follows the Shanghai-Nanjing high-speed train, which started operation in July.

China already has the world's longest high-speed rail network, and plenty more high-speed lines are coming under an ambitious buildup initiated in 2006 by China's Ministry of Railways and accelerated with government stimulus funds.

"China has 7,055 kilometers of high-speed railway in service. It is the world's longest and the fastest, and boasts the most comprehensive technology," said He Huawu, the ministry's chief engineer.

"We have an ambition to lead the world in high-speed railway construction," he said.

The ministry's 2 trillion yuan plan envisions 16,000 kilometers of dedicated high-speed rail lines - nearly half of the world's total length - connecting all of China's major cities, including Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Wuhan, Xi'an and Guangzhou, by 2020.

The speed revolution is expected to ease transportation bottlenecks - and also serve as a core economic stimulant, encouraging the growth of related industries from manufacturing to tourism.

However, some underlying questions remain. The high-speed trains' target passengers, rich Chinese, have called for reductions in ticket prices, which, for many people, can equal a week's pay.

Many would-be riders are still choosing to take regular trains, whose price is nearly half that of a high-speed train, though the trips take twice as long.

In another complication, China's airlines recognize a competitive threat in the high-speed trains.

China set its first world speed record on June 24, 2008, when the Beijing-Tianjin CRH3 high-speed train hit a top speed of 394.3 kilometers an hour.

The 1,318-kilometer Beijing-to-Shanghai high-speed railway is scheduled to open in 2012.

Once complete, travel time between Chinese mainland's two major cities by train will be cut in half to less than five hours.


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