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A crew member of the bullet train traveling between Nanjing and Ningbo welcomes passengers at Nanjing South Railway Station in Nanjing, East China's Jiangsu province, July 1, 2013. The Nanjing-Hangzhou-Ningbo high-speed railway that stretches across East China's Yangtze River Delta began officially put into operation on July 1. The new high-speed railway is expected to boost the region's economy and foster the growth of tourism in the three cities it links. [Photo by You You/Asianewsphoto]
The opening of a new high-speed train line linking Nanjing,Jiangsuprovince, with Ningbo,Zhejiang's only deepwater port, will not only make the integration of the Yangtze River Delta region a possibility, but almost a certainty.
The new high-speed rail line passing through Hangzhou, Zhejiang's provincial capital, will commence operations on Monday.
It is the latest leg of a high-speed rail network of eight lines that cross the industrial heartland of East China.
One of the richest regions in the country, the Yangtze River Delta region, with a total area of 99,600 square kilometers spanning two provinces plusShanghai, has a combined population of 75 million people.
The cities and industrial pockets in the region are linked by the Yangtze River and its many tributaries.
Efforts to better integrate the region with Shanghai as its center have gained a major boost with the completion of the high-speed rail network that will greatly shorten travel time between cities.
Formerly, it took more than five hours to go from Nanjing to Ningbo, but the high-speed rail line will reduce that time to about two hours.
Providing a faster connection between cities in the region has been a long-term project. According to statistics provided by the Shanghai Railway Administration for the first four months of this year, the Shanghai-Ningbo high-speed railway averaged 210,000 passengers a day, the Shanghai-Hangzhou high-speed train had 100,000 daily passengers, the Zhejiang coastal high-speed train averaged more than 70,000 passengers daily and the Hefei-Bengbu route was used daily by 13,000 passengers.
Shanghai's role as atransportationcenter is evident in the scale of its road and rail network, which reached 7,800 km by the end of last year, 1,800 km of which are high-speed rail lines. It is expected the total length of the high-speed rail lines will reach 3,200 km by the end of 2015, all of which are up to international standards.
A close connection between the cities can be seen more intensely in the Hongqiao transportation hub. Located in the western part of the city, the hub connects the airport, high-speed railway and the city's major metro lines, allowing people to transfer between cities with little effort.
Real estate developers have seen profits to be made near the Hongqiao hub with its large flow of passengers every day.
Renowned for its rejuvenation of Xintiandi in downtown Shanghai, which was a worn down residential community, theHong Kong-based Shui On Group is now building an urban complex called The Hub in Hongqiao, scheduled to be completed in 2014.
Vincent Lo, chairman of Shui On Group, said, "There are sure to be small urban circles mushrooming around such mega-cities as Shanghai, which will fundamentally change the planning andconstructionof the urban transportation infrastructure."
Bryan Chan, project director of The Hub, compared the high-speed train network in China to the construction of the US highway system that started in the 1950s. Cities throughout the United States are now connected by this system.
"A similar revolution is now taking place in China with the help of the high-speed train. Once realized, 25 million people will be able to live in an economic circle where they can reach each other's cities within an hour. This cannot be compared to any other place in the world," said Chan at the Urban Land Institute's forum on high-speed railway and urban development held in Shanghai in early June.
"It is like a set rule applicable all over the world. But it is certain Hongqiao enjoys convenient transportation seen nowhere else. It is certain that Hongqiao will exert great influence over the regional economy," said Xue Quanrong, executive deputy director of the Shanghai Hongqiao CBD Administrative Committee.
With the high-speed railway, urban planning can look farther to neighboring Nanjing, Hangzhou and Hefei, said Zhou Hongyun, chief engineer and executive deputy director of the Shanghai Railway Administration.
"In this sense, Shanghai's development strategy can be expanded to a wider neighboring 35 sq km. A new economic development industry cluster will come into being in this way," Zhou said.
"With the operation of the high-speed train, it is now possible for cosmopolitan cities and smaller cities to share resources with each other. The functions of different cities will be redefined and the layout of industries will possibly be restructured," he added.