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UPDATED: June 10, 2011 NO. 24 JUNE 16, 2011
More Than Just Speed

The 1,318-km Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway will finally come into operation at the end of June. Since construction began three years ago, the speedy railway has grabbed worldwide attention because of its design as the world's longest and fastest high-speed rail line utilizing the most advanced technology.

The line will stand as a landmark railway in China. This is not only because it links the country's two largest cities and traverses one of the country's most vibrant regions, but also because it will bring real benefits to passengers and, more significantly, changes to the country's communication system.

Unexpectedly, this long-awaited railway won't become the fastest as planned. Just before the unveiling of the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway for test runs, China's Ministry of Railways (MOR) in April 2011 announced it would lower the maximum speed of high-speed trains from 350 km per hour to 300 km per hour, effective as of July 1. So the previously planned 380 km per hour on the Beijing-Shanghai rail line—the world's fastest­—will also be slowed to 300 km per hour according to the adjustment.

A speed no faster than 300 km per hour, says the MOR, will improve energy efficiency and, more importantly, make tickets more affordable for the average passenger. The high-speed railways currently in operation in China provide passengers with extraordinary travel experiences—substantially shortened travel time, brand-new trains and spacious and comfortable seats—but ticket prices have driven away many.

To meet varying passenger needs, the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway will offer trains running at two speeds—300 km per hour and 250 km per hour—with different ticket prices depending on the speed. Meanwhile, luxury seats, which were planned to be installed on the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed trains, have also been canceled to allow more space for ordinary seats.

In addition, the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway will be the first to offer an online ticketing service, following the real-name ticketing requirement for high-speed trains that began on June 1.

These moves are natural in a market economy, as they will in turn increase passenger volume and bring increased income for the railway. But for the MOR, both the administrator and manager of China's rail system often blamed for lumbering rail reforms, these moves may indicate a turning point in rail policy and China's high-speed rail future.

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