China launched services Wednesday on the world’s longest high-speed rail route, linking the nation’s capital in Beijing all the way to the country’s southeastern hub of Guangzhou.
Averaging speeds of up to 186 m.p.h. (300 km/h), the 1,425-mile (2,293 km) route now takes eight hours to complete; previously, the journey would take about 22 hours by train. (It will also be making stops in other cities en route, including Shijiazhuang, Zhengzhou, Wuhan and Changsha.)
Tickets aren’t exactly cheap, however: according to the New York Times, the cost for a one-way ticket in second class is 865 yuan — about $139. In comparison, a round-trip flight between the two cities comes in at just over $300.
(PHOTOS: China’s High-Speed Rail)
According to reports by China’s state-run media and Agence France-Presse, Dec. 26 was chosen as the date for the train’s maiden voyage to commemorate the birthday of Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China.
The new bullet train will serve as an important link between China’s political center and its dynamic southern provinces, as well as with Hong Kong, the former British colony and global financial hub located just two hours from Guangzhou by commuter rail. It will also help link China’s northern factories to the important southern port of Shenzhen: with more passengers opting for high-speed rail, the thinking goes, older lines can be devoted to freight that would otherwise travel more slowly and expensively by truck.
Since the opening of the first high-speed rail system from Beijing to Tianjin in 2008, China has undertaken a series of massive infrastructure projects to upgrade its extensive rail network for high-speed service — sometimes, critics say, at the expense of safety. In July 2011 a high-profile crash near Wenzhou in southeastern Zhejiang province killed 40 people. Faulty equipment was blamed for the incident and, in response, the top speeds of the nation’s bullet trains were lowered.
According to Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, the Chinese high-speed rail network now includes almost 6,000 miles (9,700 km) of track. By 2020, that number is expected to reach more than 30,000 miles (48,000 km), with the completion of four north-south routes and four east-west routes that will eventually span the country.
The Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway, an 819-mile (1,320 km) bullet-train line that opened in November 2010 and currently serves two of China’s most important economic regions, remains the world’s longest high-speed line ever constructed in a single phase.