China yesterday launched service on the world’s longest high-speed rail route, the latest milestone in the country’s rapid and — sometimes troubled — super-fast rail network.
The opening of the new 2,298km line between Beijing and Guangzhou means passengers will be whisked from the capital to the southern commercial hub in just eight hours, compared with the 22 hours previously required.
China Central Television broadcast the 9am departure of the first train live from Beijing West Railway Station. It also carried live reports inside the train showing passengers toting cameras, apparently to snap commemorative photographs.
Another train departed Guangzhou for the capital at 10am, Xinhua news agency reported.
Trains will travel at an average speed of 300kph over the line, which includes 35 stops in major cities such as Zhengzhou, Wuhan on the Yangtze River and Changsha.
State media reported that the date was chosen to commemorate the birth in 1893 of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東).
The Beijing-Guangzhou route was made possible with the completion of a line between Zhengzhou and Beijing. High-speed sections linking Zhengzhou and Wuhan and Wuhan and Guangzhou were already in service.
China’s high-speed rail network was established in 2007 and has quickly become the world’s largest. Xinhua said that China now operates 9,300km of high-speed railways.
The state-run China Daily newspaper reported that the nation’s high-speed rail network is set to jump to 50,000km by 2020, with four main lines running north to south, and another four east to west.
The network, while a symbol of China’s emergence as the world’s second-largest economy, has also been plagued by graft and safety scandals, such as a collision in July last year that killed 40 people.
The accident was China’s worst rail disaster since 2008 and caused a torrent of public criticism aimed at the government amid accusations that authorities compromised safety in their rush to expand the network.
Authorities said they have taken steps ahead of the new line’s opening to improve maintenance and inspection of infrastructure, as well as emergency response measures.