Shanghai

China No 1 with a bullet (train)

trainrotator - Lunchmag

Imagine taking a train from Shanghai to Beijing in less time than it takes to fly (once you factor in transport and security times), for a fraction of the cost and in comfort and safety at 300km/h.

That experience will be available in the Middle Kingdom from July as China ramps up its super trains in a move that humbles American ingenuity and puts pressure on airlines.

The futuristic high speed train will begin operation between Shanghai and Beijing in July.

Traveling at 300km/hour (180 mph) the new high-speed rail link between Beijing and Shanghai will make the trip in just 4 hours and 45 minutes. There are 90 trains operating each way daily carrying 1004 passengers each.

Compared with 50 flights per day currently linking the two cities, the train system is expected to have a significant impact on the airline business and take pressure off conventional rail, which can be devoted to hauling freight.

China travel oracle Helen Wong of Helen Wong’s Tours (www.helenwongstours.com) said the fast train made more sense than flying.

“Like in Europe and Japan, the excitement of travelling on a high-speed train which reaches a speed of up to 350km/h is a comfortable, exhilarating experience. You actually get the chance to see more of China’s countryside from the comfort of your seat,’’ Ms Wong told Lunch Magazine.

Trains make sense … China specialist Helen Wong of helenwongstours.com

She also emphasized the advantages of taking the train over dealing with the hassles of flying.

“One of the beauties is that you don’t have to check in two hours ahead of departure time as you have to do when flying.  Bring into play security checks and travel time it takes to reach the airport from the hotel, train travel makes good sense. Let’s face it, a train journey of less than five hours sounds like a worthwhile alternative to the two-hour flight.’’

One drawback though is that there’s no porter service and the luggage area is restricted. So you need to travel light – that means no heavy oversized suitcases, she said.

The immense network of fast trains – it is the most recent piece of a planned grid that will span 45,000 km in four years – would have far reaching implications for travel within China, she said.

“Such is the demand for air tickets that there was a need for an alternative swift style of transport to take the pressure off flights. The fact that rail travellers can cover the distances in less than half the previous rail time will encourage more to travel.”

And with oil rapidly running out, rail travel makes more sense than ever.

“As the price of aviation fuel continues to rise, the need for fast train travel has become more essential for travel throughout China. The growth of a nationwide fast train network will take pressure off domestic flights. At the same time it will increase the number of tourists, both domestically and from abroad.”

Ministry of Railways chief engineer, He Huawu recently described the project as “the pride of China and the Chinese people.’’.

“It took just 39 months to build such a high-standard and world-renowned high-speed rail line, which is a gift for the 90th anniversary of the Party.”

China Guide’s Peter Danford said since trains rarely are delayed or affected by weather the new railway link is expected to be as fast as taking a flight and less expensive.  These services will give tourists greater flexibility in their schedules and help decrease the cost of tours.

The trains have business class, first class and second-class seating.

Mr Danford said the link was the latest temptation to lure rail fans to China.

“ Rail travel is considered to be a romantic and historical mode of adventure.  Yet in many western countries its development has stopped or faded away entirely in favor of air travel.  China is a living example of railroad development in the modern era,’’ Mr Danford told Lunch Magazine.

Those who are fans of railroads will find much to do in China, said Mr Danford.

“If you are flying in or out of the Pudong international airport in Shanghai then you can ride the Maglev train between the city and the airport.  On a test run the train achieved a record speed of 501kph and is routinely run at 430kph during the day.  Even if you are not flying out of the airport you can buy a return ticket from the city and make the 8 minute trip in both directions.

“You can also ride the subway systems in Beijing and Shanghai, a very practical way to get around and avoid traffic on the surface.

‘’From Beijing a trip to Xi’an on the deluxe soft sleeper train can be a romantic and fun adventure.  With your own private two bed compartment including a private toilet, you can hide in your cabin and look out the window.

Mr Danford said if you really want an epic railway journey, ride the highest train in the world, between Beijing and Lhasa.  “The journey takes over 50  hours and the train has oxygen outlets so guests can breathe easy,’’ he said.

Travel by the new fast train in conjunction with hotel bookings and sightseeing can be booked though Australian-based China specialist Helen Wong’s Tours (www.helenwongstours.com or phone 1300 788 322 in Australia).

The China Guide (www.thechinaguide.com) will be offering booking services for these new trains as part of their China custom and group tours.

Jonathan Porter

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