x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Beijing to Shanghai in a blur as 300kph high-speed rail line opens

High-speed rail link cuts 1,300km journey to less than five hours, amid concerns over costs, corruption and safety.

A CRH high-speed train leaves the Beijing South Station for Shanghai on the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway yesterday. Alexander Yuan / AP Photo
A CRH high-speed train leaves the Beijing South Station for Shanghai on the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway yesterday. Alexander Yuan / AP Photo

SHANGHAI // Little more than 10 minutes after the sleek white train eased out of Beijing South railway station yesterday morning, the onboard display was indicating a speed of 304kph.

And within five hours, the hi-tech CRH380BL glided into Shanghai Hongqiao station after a 1,300km trip that was a blur of industrial plants, apartment blocks, fields and neat rows of trees.

Yesterday's trip was a demonstration run for the new Beijing to Shanghai high-speed rail line, which opens to the public on Thursday and is the flagship of China's multi-billion-dollar high-speed rail expansion programme.

The result of a three-year building project, it is the highest-profile line in a high-speed rail network expanding at an unprecedented rate as China continues near double-digit economic growth.

There are already more than 8,000km of high-speed rail lines in China and this figure is set to reach 16,000km by 2020, with railway investment this year alone budgeted at 745.5 billion yuan (Dh422.7bn).

"The high-speed network strengthens the economic development in China and will change the lives of people," He Huawu, the chief engineer in China's railways ministry, said on the platform in Beijing yesterday.

Mr He said the new lines would help eliminate "a chronic lack of passenger capacity" that has affected China's railways up to now.

"With this line between Beijing and Shanghai, there will be further integration between two of the biggest economic regions of China," he added.

On the new Beijing-to-Shanghai service, the fastest trains will run at 300kph and their ticket prices will range from 555 yuan (Dh 314) to 1,750 yuan (Dh992) for a journey of 4 hours and 48 minutes. On services travelling at 250kph, tickets start at 410 yuan.

These slower trains will make the trip in 7 hours 56 minutes, two hours less than 250kph trains on the existing Beijing-to-Shanghai line.

The trains have standard carriages with five seats in a row, first class, which have four seats per row, and the most expensive, business class, in which each row has just three seats, each of which can fold down flat.

The launch of the most talked-about high-speed rail line in China has come after setbacks that have taken the sheen off a scheme in which much national pride has been invested.

In February the railways minister, Liu Zhijun, was sacked amid allegations he had taken kickbacks representing 4 per cent of the value in eight projects. Known as Leaping Liu for his championing of high-speed rail, he is said to have pocketed 822 million yuan (Dh466.1 million).

Since his removal, some projects have been halted over environmental concerns, while the maximum operating speed for the Beijing-to-Shanghai route has been reduced from 380kph to 300kph, with the incoming minister, Sheng Guangzu, saying safety was a factor.

The speed reduction, also implemented on many other high-speed routes, also cuts operating costs, making tickets cheaper, after concern from migrant workers in particular that they cannot afford the high-speed services.

Officials yesterday insisted the Chinese-built trains used on the new service used largely locally developed technology, although China has for many years been using modified designs from companies in Japan and western Europe for its high-speed rolling stock.

And while the wind turbines and high-tech industrial plants that dotted the landscape during the trip showed China's eastern coastal region has developed rapidly, the peasant farmers working with their donkeys in the fields offered a reminder that the country's economic transformation has yet to affect everyone.