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December 27, 2009

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High-speed railway now open

THE Wuhan-Guangzhou high-speed railway started operation yesterday and it features one of the world's fastest train rides at 350 kilometers per hour.

One train departed both Wuhan Railway Station and Guangzhou North Railway Station about 9am. Both completed their trips within three hours, compared with the usual 10 1/2 hours.

The service between Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province, and Guangzhou, capital city of Guangdong Province, was put into trial operation on December 9. Trains reached a maximum speed of 394.2 kph during testing.

A 600-member delegation from Xianning City boarded the train at 10am at Xianning North Station to promote tourism and attract investment in Guangzhou. Nearly two hours later, they had to take off their winter coats as they arrived in Guangzhou, where the temperature was about 20 degrees Celsius.

"We have been waiting a long time for the service to start," said Zheng Zengjin, manager of Yaochi Hotel in Xianning and a delegation member. "Previously, we had to suffer the exhausting and uncomfortable train trips that took more than 10 hours.

"We expect closer cooperation between the Pearl River Delta and less developed regions such as Xianning with this faster rail link."

While traveling by train in China has usually meant crowded cars, dirty toilets and overnight trips, speed is the future of train travel as the government has launched a major upgrade of the nation's over-stretched railway system.

The government spent more than 20 years lifting the speed of passenger trains from an average of 43 kph in 1978 to 100 kph in 2001. It took only nine years to reach 350 kph, said Xu Fangliang, general engineer in charge of design for the Wuhan-Guangzhou line.

High-speed railways average 243 kph in Japan, 277 kph in France and 232 kph in Germany, he said.

China will build 42 high-speed passenger rail lines with a total length of 13,000 kilometers in the next three years, covering more than 90 percent of the population.

By 2012, trips from Beijing to most provincial capital cities will take one to eight hours, said Railway Ministry spokesman Wang Yongping.

High-speed rail services from Beijing to Hong Kong are expected to open in three years, cutting the journey time from 23 hours to eight. A one-way trip from Shanghai to Hong Kong will be shortened to six hours from the current 18, he said.

Zheng Zengwu, a 46-year-old train driver based at Wuhan Railway Station, has seen the evolution from steam locomotives and diesel-fueled engines to the high-speed trains during his 30-year career.

"I'm proud China's railway technology is developing so fast," he said. "The new trains are so steady and comfortable."


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