Following successful high-speed test runs on 24 December, the latest extension to China’s high-speed network opened to passengers on 26 December 2012. The average speed over the route is 300 km per hour, with peak speeds of up to 350 km per hour.
The 2298 km line runs from Beijing down to Guangzhou in the south and cuts the travel time from 22 hours (see our article An Epic Rail Journey Across China) down to just eight hours. While this takes more than twice as long as the same journey by air, the train is cheaper (even if you move up a class) and you get to experience the countryside close-up.
Investment in China’s train service slowed after the Wenzhou accident in July 2011 but has picked up again after the introduction of new safety measures. More than half of the projected 16,000 km modern rail network has now already been built.
It is planned to extend the line to Hong Kong by 2012 and the underpinnings of the underground West Kowloon Terminus have already been completed. This is intended to increase competition with the regional airlines. Despite the large area of the country, there is considerable air traffic congestion over China as the airlines are restricted to narrow flight corridors. Weather conditions also result in frequent flight delays.
A first-class ticket on the Beijing/Guangzhou high speed line costs 1388 Yuan. (By comparison, an economy class ticket over the slightly longer Hong-Kong/Beijing route on China Southern Airlines costs 1620 Yuan.)