Monday, 24 December 2012 15:09
Following a series of successful tests, the Chinese government has announced that the longest high-speed rail network in the world is scheduled to start taking passengers on December 26, according to Reuters.
The link between Beijing and Guangzhou runs for 1,428 miles and is expected to cut rail travel time between the cities to less than ten hours, as compared to the twenty hours plus the journey currently takes. Trains will travel on the high-speed track at speeds of 186 m.p.h., and the opening of the line is seen by some transport analysts as a commitment by the government to ensuring that engineering resources are deployed in a number of public projects, a matter of some importance as the Chinese middle class continues to evolve.
"A second-class train ticket on the line, which winds through major inland Chinese cities, including Zhengzhou, Wuhan and Changsha, costs 865 yuan, while a first-class ticket costs 1,388 yuan," noted Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency. "Competition from the new railway line for airlines operating Beijing-Wuhan and Beijing-Zhengzhou flights will be intense."
Rail investment in China slowed after a high-speed train crash in 2011, raising some concerns within the country about the safety of a bullet-train system, especially considering the increase in passenger numbers as a result of continued economic growth. High-speed rail has always been on the engineering agenda for the government, which has cast envious glances across the East China Sea to the successful, and world-renowned, system employed in Japan.
Although the line will be officially open for service on the day after Christmas, some parts of the track have been operating for some time. Government officials confident that an investment in rail will help reduce the current bottleneck in cargo transport and increase the level of funding for commuter rail in China's ever-growing urban areas, despite some private concerns over safety.
"We have developed a full range of effective measures to manage safety," Zhou Li, head of the ministry's science and technology department, told reporters during a test run on the track. "High-speed railways are needed for national development, for the people and for regional communication. Many countries have boosted their economies by developing high-speed rail."
The Chinese Ministry of Railways expects to spend billions of yuan in the next 12 months into improving the current system while beginning the engineering research process of extending lines to Hong Kong and possibly even Russia. Sources at the Ministry told state media services that the government had already approved 25 separate rail projects, with a combined estimated cost of $157 billion, although it was unclear exactly how these would be funded.
Following the fatal crash at Wenzhou in 2011, caused by a stranded high-speed rail train being hit by another after a lightning storm, government investment dropped off and state media reported that the government was to cut over $80 billion from the railway budget. However, it seems to have had a change of heart in 2012, with conservative estimates showing that there has been a 250 percent increase in rail networks as it looks to reverse a slowing economy.
Private investment option
According to Bloomberg, rail travel in China loses the government money every year, and while the option of private investment has been mooted, there are some who are skeptical that a national high-speed rail network will become a reality in the near future.
"Government-driven investment has quick effects on boosting growth in the short term," said Yuan Gangming, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government think-tank based in Beijing. "But you can’t rely on investment to drive growth forever."
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