It took Chinese engineers only 39 months to build the country's grandest yet infrastructure project — a $33 billion, 1,318 km high-speed railway line that links the capital with its financial centre.
Starting Thursday morning, trains running at 300 kmph will barrel out of Beijing's ultramodern and sprawling South Railway Station, making the journey to Shanghai — cities as far apart as New Delhi and Mumbai — in only 4 hours and 45 minutes, less than half the duration of the current 10-hour journey.
On Monday, Chinese railway officials unveiled a test-run of the most ambitious segment of their already impressive and fast-expanding high-speed rail network, which stretches across more than 8,000 km and will double by 2020.
The landmark project will open to the public on Thursday, a day before the Communist Party of China marks its 90th anniversary.
“This is the pride of China and the Chinese people,” said He Huawu, chief engineer of the Ministry of Railways. “It took just 39 months to build such a high-standard and world-renowned high-speed rail line, which is a gift for the 90th anniversary of the Party.”
Mr. He said the trains were completely safe, and would travel well below maximum speeds, at around 250-300 kmph. Chinese airlines are already cutting air-fares between Beijing and Shanghai, anticipating heavy patronage for the rail line.
The cheapest ticket costs 410 Yuan (Rs. 2870), around half as much as the fare for the two-hour flight, and minus the hassles of air travel.
The financial viability of the line — and the high-speed rail network in general — has also been a source of much debate. China plans to spend 2.8 trillion yuan ($ 430.7 billion) on its railway network in the next five years.
Wang Mengshu, a leading expert on China's high-speed rail network at Beijing Jiaotong University and a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told in an interview that in the long-term, the project would bring benefits to economic development, and the government did not expect the high-speed lines to break even. “All passenger transportation loses money, and this is a form of social welfare.”
“There is a very high demand from all destinations to Beijing, and between provincial capitals,” he said.
“In India, where there is greater pressure on roads and space than in China, a similar system, where trains are built on elevated bridges, makes perfect sense.”