China’s ambitious plan to link its political capital Beijing to its financial capital Shanghai in five hours (earlier it took 10 hours) will finally see fruition on the 1st of July. Inspired by China’s Long March rockets, the CRH380A series trains were earlier bogged by safety and security issues, as a result of which the trains which are capable of travelling at the speed of 350 kilometers an hour have been reduced to travel at 300 kms / hour, still making them the fastest and safest in the world. India in comparison, which still operates the legacy of the British doesn’t have a single high speed railway line.
An investment of US$34 billion, of his year’s railway budget of US$115 billion (745.5 billion yuan) has been poured into creating these locomotives which are expected to rival airplanes. Beijing has set aside 2.8 trillion yuan ($431.7 billion) to build about 30,000 km during the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) period. The trains will operate 90 journeys along the 1,318-kilometer- distance between the two cities on a daily basis and an estimated 80 million are expected to travel by them. Ticket fares will depend on the speed of the trains which will vary from 250-300 kms/ hr, although speculation pegs second-class fares from Beijing to Shanghai at a cost about 600 yuan to 650 yuan.
The high speed trains are expected to give flights that ply between the two cities a run for their money. According to state statistics, one in four flights in China ends up getting delayed, which doubles the entire travel time. Passengers are increasingly fed up with the hassles at the airport and the aircraft cabin and would want to experience a much smoother ride instead. Their experience with China’s shorter distance high speed railways in the past has been pleasant with ticket prices affording a comfortable ride, leading many to switch over to trains. Further, the high speed trains will are expected to relieve pressure off the already congested cargo, railways and airports.
The CRH380A series roll-out hasn’t been all candy floss though. Embroiled in corruption charges, China’s former Minister of Railways, Liu Zhijun, resigned in February this year and is under investigation for corruption. The state-run Xinhua news agency has reported that some US$28.5 million was embezzled as part of the planned signature Beijing-to-Shanghai high-speed railway.
China’s high-speed rail network, begun about seven years ago and expected to cost some US$300 billion by its completion in 2020, has become the country’s most celebrated infrastructure project. Planned to stretch 16,000 kilometers, it will be the largest such network in the world, and has been held up as a model for modern rail development by other countries, including the U.S.