China has opened the world’s longest high-speed rail line, which runs almost 2,300km from the country’s capital in the north to Guangzhou, an economic hub in southern China.
The line officially started service on Wednesday when a train departed from Beijing at 9am for Guangzhou. Another train left Guangzhou for Beijing an hour later.
Trains on this high-speed line will initially run at 300kph with a total travel time of about eight hours between the two cities, compared with the previous time length of 20 hours.
The rail line includes 35 stops in major cities such as Zhenghzhou, Wuhan on the Yangze River and Gangsha.
State media have reported that December 26 was chosen as the date to open the Beijing-Guangzhou line to commemorate the birth of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong in 1893.
Railway is an essential part in China’s transportation system, and its government plans to build a grid of high-speed railways with four east-west lines and four north-south lines by 2020.
China’s high-speed rail network was established in 2007, but has fast become the world’s largest with 8,358 kilometres of track at the end of 2010. That is expected to almost double to 16,000km by 2020.
The railway network, however, has been plagued by graft and safety scandals, most notably a deadly bullet train collision in July 2011 that killed 40 people and led to public outrage.
The accident was China’s worst rail disaster since 2008 and caused a torrent of criticism aimed at the government amid accusations that authorities compromised safety in their rush to expand the network.
Authorities said they had taken steps ahead of the new line’s opening to improve maintenance and inspection of infrastructure and emergency response measures.
“The emergency rescue system and all kinds of emergency pre-plans are established to improve emergency response ability,” according to a ministry booklet.