China’s High Speed Rail

A few days before China opened the new 1300-mile (2000km) High Speed Rail line between the capital Beijing in the north and Guangzhou in the south, I was fortunate to travel along the 800-mile (1300 km) Shanghai-Beijing line. Travelling at top speeds of 300km/h, the train makes the journey in a mere 5 hours, at an average speed of 260km/h. The distance is comparable to Paris-Madrid (1300km) in Europe, where the fastest journey by French TGV [Train à Grande Vitesse] and Spanish AVE [Alta Velocidad Española] takes 10 hours – twice the time! Now, in even less time, here is a summary of what I thought of it.

Departure: From the city centre, Shanghai Hongqaio Railway Station is conveniently linked by two metro lines (and four more are planned!) though it might require some less favourable changes from other lines. Rising a few levels to the vast departures hall (pictured), the station begins to feel a little like an airport terminal: passing through baggage scanners and metal detectors, then proceeding to an area of departure gates.

Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station
Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station – Departures Hall

Journey: The analogy with aircraft ends as the train carriage begins, but that is a good thing: the amount of space, particularly leg-room available was the first thing I noticed upon entering economy class. Considering the height of the average Chinese, this is even more surprising, but perhaps it serves a second purpose as room to store luggage when the overhead shelves are full. Despite travelling in the low season, my carriage at least appeared full, but not packed.

China HSR carriage
China HSR – empty carriage

Arrival: Slightly disappointingly, the train pulled into Beijing South Railway Station some 15 minutes late which, while not dramatic, is still 5% on top of the timetabled 5-hour journey time. Luckily, the subway was still running so no harm was done. A one-way ticket price of 555 RMB (£55) might only be affordable for a small percentage of the population, but considering the relative comfort and convenience of travel when compared with flying, in my opinion, rail travel now beats air travel at an ever-increasing range of distances.

Further Reading:

Guardian article, Wednesday 26 December 2012

NYTimes article, published 26 December 2012

BeijingShanghai HSR (Distance: 1,302 km / 809 miles)

Beijing-Guangzhou-Hong Kong HSR (Distance: 2,230 km / 1,390 miles)


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