All systems go for Beijing-Shanghai project as ticket prices announced
BEIJING - The high-speed railway linking Beijing to Shanghai, which will open later this month, is safe and reliable and the reduction in operating speed is to maximize efficiency, rail authorities said on Monday.
Hu Yadong, vice-minister of railways, told a news conference that all systems are go for the line's opening.
The Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway is a landmark project. "Its technology is advanced, its quality reliable and safety guaranteed. It is completely ready for operation and will open in late June," Hu said.
Tickets for the journey between China's top two cities will range from 410 yuan to 1,750 yuan ($63 to $270), depending on the train's designated speed and seat category. Tickets will be sold online a week before the formal launch date.
The 1,318-km line will run 90 pairs of trains daily. These will travel at either 300 km/h or 250 km/h. The fastest travel time between the two cities will be four hours and 48 minutes, or about half the time trains currently take.
The ministry had previously considered cutting the travel time to just four hours by running trains at a top speed of 380 km/h.
Speed cuts will also be introduced on other rail routes.
Starting July 1, several high-speed railways, including the lines linking Wuhan and Guangzhou, Zhengzhou and Xi'an, and Shanghai and Nanjing, will see train speeds reduced from 350 km/h to 300 km/h. Trains that run at 250 km/h will be added to these lines to meet diversified needs.
The speed cut is in line with a nationwide directive made public in April that said all high-speed trains must run at a slower pace than previously announced - no faster than 300 km/h - to make journeys safer.
The directive followed a major corruption scandal in February when then railways minister, Liu Zhijun, was dismissed after an investigation into serious disciplinary violations. It raised concerns over the costs and safety of high-speed rail links.
Hu rejected speculation that operating speed had been slashed because high-speed railways were unsafe or unreliable. He said that the decision was due to maximizing efficiency.
The high-speed railway was built according to the technical standards of travel at 350 km/h, and all test runs were conducted at 350 km/h, he said.
During the test period, from November to May 10, trains covered a length of more than 600,000 km, and a one-month trial operation that commenced on May 11 has seen trains covering a total length of 2 million km.
The technical reliability of the line, as measured by international criteria, is world class, he said.
"But when we decided on its commercial operating speed, we took into account economic efficiency."
The vice-minister said that the railway will operate a dual-speed system with the slower trains making way for faster ones.
The bigger the speed gap (between two types of trains), the greater the impact on the line's operating efficiency, he said.
The ministry found that running trains at 350 km/h and 250 km/h on the same line will be 20 percent less efficient than operating trains traveling at 300 km/h and 250 km/h.
The ministry also took energy consumption, the wear and tear on tracks and rolling stock, into consideration, Hu said.
The ministry is taking every measure to ensure the line's safety.
Maintenance workers will spend four hours checking the tracks every night. Two passenger-free trains will travel the line every morning to conduct safety checks before trains with passengers get the green light.
A monitoring system that recognizes any abnormalities, such as extreme weather or earthquakes, will alert the railway's power and signal systems and force trains to slow down or even stop.
The railway also has a protective fence, 2.85 meters high, to prevent people or large animals getting onto the tracks. Other high-speed railways have fences ranging from 1.8 meters to 2.5 meters tall.
A patrol guard will be stationed every kilometer along the line to look for safety hazards.
Passenger security checks at the 24 stations along the line will also be upgraded, Hu said.
The railway is expected to draw some passengers from the lucrative Beijing-Shanghai air route.
But a marketing manager with Air China surnamed He said on Monday that airlines are not likely to give bigger discounts but will make greater efforts to guarantee punctuality.
While airlines might lose passengers initially, they are confident of winning them back.
"People might like to try a new mode of transport," Zhu Qingyu, head of the marketing department at China Air Transport Association, said.
"No doubt some passengers might like to try the fast train, but they will make a firm choice over time.
"As long as China's economy is booming and the demand for travel is increasing, neither airlines nor the high-speed railway need to worry about passenger flow."
Ma Xulun, general manager of China Eastern, told Shanghai-based China Business News that the railway will take 20 to 30 percent of airline passengers over the next six months, but the long-term influence will be less severe.
A poll on Weibo.com of 1,000 netizens showed that, as of Monday evening, 74 percent of respondents believed ticket prices for the high-speed railway were too high, while 16 percent said the prices were reasonable.
Li Jiaxiang, head of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, said earlier that to compete with the high-speed railway, airport procedure will be streamlined to cut passenger travel time and efforts will be made to reduce flight delays.