Beijing: China Wednesday launched the world's longest high-speed rail line connecting capital Beijing with southern metropolis of Guangzhou that cuts the travel time in the 2,298-km route from over 20 hours to eight hours, setting off a price war between the country's railways and airways.
Two bullet trains departed from stations in Beijing and Guangzhou at 9 am and 10 am respectively in a nationally- televised ceremony.
Running at an average speed of 300-km per hour, the trains cut the travel time in 2,298-km line from over 20 hours to about eight hours.
A total of 155 pairs of trains will run on the new line each day, almost a train every half-an-hour.
Alternative schedules have been made for weekends and peak travel hours, according to the Ministry of Railways (MOR).
There will still be 183 pairs of trains running daily on the old Beijing-Guangzhou line that runs parallel to the high-speed route, allaying concerns that the new line would increase passengers' travel costs.
China's high-speed rail network was established in 2007 with technology collaborations with top companies like Siemens.
With the opening of the Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed line, China now has more than 9,300 km of high-speed railway in operation.
The new line is one of four north-south lines expected to serve as the country's high-speed railway backbone, which also features four east-west lines.
According to the 12th five-year plan for railway development, by 2015, China will have around 120,000 km of railway in operation, including 18,000 km of high-speed railway and an express railway network of 40,000 km, which allows speeds of over 160 km per hour, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
China now looks to export its high-speed technology to India and other countries.
The collaboration was discussed during the recently held Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) in New Delhi.
The development of high-speed train corridors alleviate pressure on regular tracks which could be used for freight transport.
The new line is expected to ease travel pressure during the Chinese New Year known as the Spring Festival during which millions of Chinese travel to their native places. The new Beijing-Guangzhou route is the longest high speed network China has launched after the Beijing-Shanghai Bullet train last year which brought down travel time to around five hours, covering over 1300 km distance between two of China's largest cities.
Officials say safety issues arising out of last year's deadly crash in which 35 people were killed were also addressed.
The new train covers Beijing with China's most industrialised province of Guangdong, which houses top developed cities like Guangzhou close to Hong Kong and Maccau.
The line is expected to be extended to Hong Kong by 2015.
Designed with a maximum speed of 350-km per hour, the railway connects five provinces and has 35 stops in major cities, including Shijiazhuang, Zhengzhou, Wuhan and Changsha.
A second-class seat on the new high-speed line costs 865 yuan (USD 138), while a sleeper on the old line sells for around 430 yuan.
Reports say that Chinese airlines have already started feeling the pressure and offering tickets at prices lower than the bullet train ticket cost.
It takes three-and-a-half hours by air to travel from Beijing to Guangzhou.
"The opening of the Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed line shows China's high-speed railway network has started to take shape," said Zhou Li, Director General of Science and Technology of the MOR.
Preparations for a new high-speed line linking the central Chinese cities of Zhengzhou and Xuzhou are underway. The line will intersect the Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed rail line and the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail line, which started operations on June 30 last year.
"The rail network closely connects economic hubs like the Pan-Bohai economic zone, central China, the Yangtze River Delta economic zone and the Pearl River Delta economic zone and will greatly boost socio-economic development in these regions," said Zhou.
The new Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed line will not only improve transportation conditions, but also cut logistics costs, boost the comprehensive development of land resources along the route, enhance the investment environment and improve economic collaboration and the division of labour between regions, he said.