by Yang Jianxiang, China Features
BEIJING, Oct. 4 (Xinhua) -- Businesswoman Zeng Xiaowei lives in Fuzhou, capital of east China's Fujian Province. Normally, when she wants to visit her parents in Xiamen, about 300 kilometers southeast to Fuzhou, it is a five hour bus ride.
Zeng could fly home, but that would cost three times as much. The train is not a good choice either because the railway was not originally build the shortest route - along the coastline linking the two cities.
Fujian is on the western side of Taiwan Strait. In the days when relations between Taiwan and Chinese mainland was tense, the building of railway along the coastal frontier was not seen as politically sensible by the mainland authorities.
Because of that decision, Zeng's trip to visit her parents by train would take about 11 hours.
Things changed recently when a new, 275 km railway went into operation on April 26, 2010. Trains on the Fuzhou-Xiamen High Speed (HS) Rail line run at maximum speed of 250 km/h.
"The entire trip only takes one and a half hours. And one train is available every hour. This is very convenient," says Zeng.
China's development of high speed rail may have been late but over the past five years, China has accomplished what other countries have taken decades to achieve.
China's first HS rail, the 120-km inter-city line between Beijing and Tianjin, went into operation on August 1, 2008. According to the Ministry of Railway (MOR), by the end of 2009, there were 6,552 km of HS track in operation and an additional 10,000 km were under construction.
It is expected that by the end of 2012, China will have 13,000 km of HS rail in service in a rail system covering 110,000 km. A HS rail network with four North-South and four East-West lines will take shape and most of the provincial capitals of China will be accessible from Beijing via HS train in under 8 hours.
One of these, the Wuhan-Guangzhou HS railway line, opened in December 2009, runs 33 trains day. MOR statistics suggest that their average occupancy rate is 84 percent, with the busiest day recording 82,200 passengers.
HS trains carried 2.132 million of passengers traveling between Wuhan and Guangzhou in the 40-day peak period surrounding the Lunar New Year's Day. This provided great relief of pressure on conventional train service and other means of transport. The HS train is expected to help in other peak seasons like National Day and summer vacation for students.
The development of HS rail is a response to growing transport demand that results from quick-paced industrialization and urbanization. Large scale investments in HS projects, involving a long chain of industries, also help the national economy in difficult economic times.