China shows off world's longest high-speed rail route

China on Saturday showed off the final link of the world's longest high-speed rail route set to begin whisking passengers from Beijing to Guangzhou next week in a third of the time currently required.

The much anticipated opening of high-speed passenger service from Beijing to Guangzhou, a distance of 2,298 kilometres (1,425 miles) is scheduled to begin Wednesday, officials said.

Travelling at an average speed of 300 kilometres per hour, the new line will slash the time it takes to travel by rail from the capital to the southern commercial hub from the current 22 hours to just eight.

Authorities took journalists for a ride Saturday on the section of the route linking Beijing's West Station with the city of Zhengzhou 693 kilometres to the south, the route's last link.

Hitting speeds of over 300 kmh, the gleaming, tubular train sped past frozen lakes and rivers as well as snow-covered farmland on the journey of approximately two-and-a-half hours each way.

Though moving much faster than the country's conventional rolling stock, the ride on the aerodynamic bullet train was smooth and made little noise other than a low-level hum during most of the trip.

The reclining seats are laid out in rows of three and two separated by an aisle, are upholstered in cloth and can be turned around so rows faced each other.

Toilets on the train are of stainless steel squat variety, with slightly more bathroom space than would usually be found on an airliner, while uniformed women were on hand to serve drinks and snacks during the trip.

"This is the world's longest bullet train track," Zhou Li, a Ministry of Railways official, told AFP, describing the Beijing-Guangzhou route. "It's also one of the most technically advanced tracks in China and the world."

The line will have 35 stops. Besides Zhengzhou, they will include other major cities such as Wuhan and Changsha. Sections linking Zhengzhou and Wuhan and Wuhan and Guangzhou are already in service.

China's high-speed rail network was only established in 2007, but has quickly become the world's largest, with a total of 8,358 kilometres of track at the end of 2010.

That is expected to almost double to 16,000 kilometres by 2020.

But the network has been plagued by graft and safety scandals following the rapid expansion. A deadly bullet train collision in July 2011 killed 40 people and sparked a public outcry.

The accident -- China's worst rail disaster since 2008 -- triggered a flood of criticism of the government and accusations that authorities had compromised safety in its rush to expand.

Authorities say that they have taken steps ahead of the new line's opening to improve maintenance and inspection of infrastructure, including track, rolling stock 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 handed out to journalists.

The train will be in service for China's Lunar New Year holiday period, which falls in mid-February, when hundreds of millions of people will travel across the country in the world's largest annual migration.

State media earlier reported that December 26 had been chosen for the start of the passenger service on the Beijing-Guangzhou line to commemorate the birth of Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

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