World's longest high-speed rail line opens in China

Associated Press

BEIJING, China- China has opened the world's longest high-speed rail line, which runs 2,298kilometres (1,428 miles) from the country's capital in the north to Guangzhou,an economic hub in the Pearl River delta in southern China.

Theline officially opened Wednesday when a train departed from Beijing at 9 a.m.for Guangzhou. Another train left Guangzhou for Beijing an hour later.

Trainson this high-speed line will initially run at 300 kph (186 mph) with a totaltravel time of about eight hours. Before, the fastest time between the twocities by train was more than 20 hours.

Railwayis an essential part in China's transportation system, and its government plansto build a grid of high-speed railways with four east-west lines and four north-southlines by 2020.

Thenew route offers a chance for China's railways ministry, which has been doggedby scandals and missteps, to redeem itself, a Reuters story on the projectnotes.

AJuly 2011 crash of a high-speed train killed 40 people and raised concernsabout the safety of the fast-growing network and threatened plans to exporthigh-speed technology.

"Wehave developed a full range of effective measures to manage safety," ZhouLi, head of the ministry's science and technology department, told reporters ona trial run from Beijing to the central city of Zhengzhou.

"Wecan control safety management," he added.

Lastyear's accident near the booming eastern coastal city of Wenzhou occurred whena high-speed train rammed into another stranded on the track after being hit bylightning.

Railinvestment slowed sharply in the wake of that accident and state media reportedearlier this year that the government had cut planned railway investment by 500billion yuan ($80.27 billion) to 2.3 trillion yuan under a five-year plan to2015.

ButReuters notes that that may reflect cuts that have already taken place as theMinistry of Railways has raised its planned investment budget three times thisyear as part of government efforts to bolster a slowing economy.

Theministry plans to spend a total of 630 billion yuan in 2012 and has been givenclearance to sell more bonds to finance the investments - one of the fewoutright spending commitments made by the central government in a slew ofproject approvals worth $157 billion which have not specified how they will befunded.

Theapprovals include 25 rail investments, state media say.

Despiteits expanding network, the Ministry of Railways struggles to make money. Itsuffered an after-tax loss of 8.8 billion yuan in the first half of 2012 in theface of rising operating costs and mounting debts.

However,the government says it remained committed to building high-speed railwaysbetween its major cities, with China eventually planning to run them intoRussia and down to Southeast Asia.

"High-speedrailways are needed for national development, for the people and for regionalcommunication. Many countries have boosted their economies by developinghigh-speed rail," Zhou said.

Chinasaid in May it would open up the railway industry to private investment on anunprecedented scale, but private investors have been skeptical.

Theneed for funding is acute. China still needs billions more in rail investmentto remove bottlenecks in cargo transport, ease overcrowding in passenger transportand develop commuter lines in its sprawling megacities.

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