A migrant worker carries heavy baggage for the trip home at a long-distance bus station in Guiyang, capital of Guizhou province, on Saturday. Qiao Qiming / for China Daily
BEIJING - The rapidly expanding high-speed rail network will increase the pressure on the country's roads in the coming holiday travel peak period and has already forced airlines to quit some short-distance routes, officials said on Tuesday.
Some 5,149 km of high-speed track were put into service last year, making the network stretch to 8,358 km, the world's longest, the Ministry of Railways said.
But the opening of more fast train services has led to fewer regular trains being available for budget-conscious passengers in the upcoming Spring Festival holiday period, Ministry of Transport spokesman He Jianzhong said on Tuesday.
The railway ministry has added luxury services to bullet trains on several routes, hoping to provide more diversified service.
For example, a luxury sleeper service was added between Shanghai and Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, with tickets costing up to 2,330 yuan ($352).
But many travelers cannot afford the tickets, causing a waste of transport capacity.
According to a report in the Shanghai-based Oriental Morning Post on Tuesday, hundreds of soft berths on bullet trains between Chengdu and Shanghai will be vacant, although cheaper tickets have sold out.
He Jianzhong said this year the situation had pushed many passengers, who used to ride home by slow trains because of the cheap tickets, onto long-distance buses.
This extra traffic will add pressure to the road transport system during the travel peak season, He said.
The Ministry of Transport estimated that a record high of 2.6 billion bus passenger trips will be made during the peak time between Jan 19 and Feb 27, an increase of 11.6 percent on the same period last year.
The transport sector plans to increase capacity to handle the extra traffic. A total of 840,000 buses, including 70,000 added this year, will hit the road during the travel peak, making 2.4 million road trips a day, he said.
While giving away some passengers to road transport, the high-speed railways, at the same time, have attracted more affluent travelers from the airlines.
Wang Changshun, deputy head of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, told a conference on Tuesday that the fast trains have forced some airlines to cancel short-distance flights along high-speed rail lines.
For example, the Wuhan-Guangzhou high-speed railway, where every few minutes trains zip between the two cities via Changsha, capital of Central China's Hunan province, has carried 20.6 million passengers in the year since its opening in December 2009.
During that period the number of flights between Changsha and Guangzhou has been cut from an average of 11.5 flights a day to three flights a day, he said.
Hainan and Shenzhen airlines decided to withdraw from the market, leaving only China Southern Airlines carrying the three daily flights, Wang said.
The ticket price for those flights also dropped by 15 percent to attract travelers, but still the number of passengers flying between Changsha and Guangzhou dropped by 48 percent to 390,000 during 2010, he said.
"The opening of the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed line next year will be another blow to the air transport industry," Wang said, without forecasting how serious the impact will be.
Airlines have been urged to cut costs, reduce delays and seek cooperation opportunities with high-speed railways.
Tan Zongyang contributed to this story.
(China Daily 01/12/2011 page3)