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Expansion of rail service to accelerate growth

China's new railway schedule and the operation of two new high-speed passenger lines will accelerate the economic growth and improve people's living standards, analysts said.


Ding Li, a researcher on regional economy competitiveness at the Guangdong Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, said that high-speed railways and inter-city express services would bring more opportunities to less-developed regions, such as the central and northwestern parts of the country and rural areas.


The Ministry of Railways (MOR) launched a major overhaul of the rail schedule Wednesday, the seventh since 1997, featuring faster trips and more seats.


The new schedule includes 89 new direct passenger trains, bringing the daily total to 1,551 pairs and raising passenger capacity by more than 10.6 percent, the MOR said.


China also launched two 250-km-per-hour inter-city railway passenger lines Wednesday. One line links Hefei, capital of eastern Anhui Province, with Wuhan, in central Hubei Province. The other connects Shijiazhuang in northern Hebei Province with Taiyuan, Shanxi Province.


The new lines will cut the travel time from Wuhan to the eastern metropolis of Shanghai by half to less than five hours. The journey between Taiyuan and Beijing would only take three hours, down by five hours.


Fares for many trains after speed upgrades are raised. For example, it took 149 yuan for a hard sleeper on the regular speed train from Beijing to Taiyuan. Now by the high-speed train, it costs 157 yuan.


"It is great that traveling from Beijing to Taiyuan takes only three hours now and there are more trains running," said Ji Min, a frequent business traveler between the two cities. "I used to spend a night on the trip and it was really hard to get a ticket."


Wang Gang, a businessman who operates a private mineral company, said, "The new high-speed train is now the best choice for a trip between the two cities as it is much faster than the coach bus, and the price is affordable."


Analysts said the two new lines would bring under-developed central region closer to developed eastern region and Beijing and facilitate economic cooperation among various parts of the country.


Sun Zhang, a professor of Shanghai-based Tongji University, said the high-speed railway line now links the middle reaches of the Yangtze River with the Yangtze Delta region, forming a long economic belt on the Yangtze River.


This would have a positive effect on the central and western parts of the country, he added.


Yu Hongsheng, researcher with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, agreed, saying operation of the Hefei-Wuhan line would strengthen cooperation between the two regions, which would expedite industrial restructuring and local economic development, and promote balanced development among regions.


China's first inter-city express railway, the Beijing-Tianjin line running at more than 300 km per hour, opened last August.


The line has played an important role in enhancing the movement of people and accelerating economic integration between the two cities, making possible an urban agglomeration, analysts said.


According to the MOR, other railways that are under construction will bring major cities closer.


Work on the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway, which started a year ago, will be finished by 2012. The new line will halve travel time to about five hours.


(Xinhua News Agency April 3, 2009)