China to open Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail in June-Xinhua

BEIJING, Jan 4 (Reuters) - China will open its $33 billion high-speed rail link between Beijing and Shanghai in June, state media said on Tuesday, cutting the journey between the two cities in half to less than five hours.

The 1,318-kilometre (819-mile) railway, which has cost 220.9 billion yuan ($33.45 billion) to build, began construction in April 2008 and was originally planned to open in 2012.

The official Xinhua News Agency cited railways minister Liu Zhijun as saying it would start operations ahead of schedule in June this year. The report did not elaborate.

The new line is expected to provide a serious challenge to airlines including Air China Ltd 601111.SS0753.HK, China Eastern Airlines Copp Ltd 600115.SS0670.HK and China Southern Airlines Co Ltd 600029.SS1055.HK. The route, connecting China's capital with its most important economic hub, is one of the most lucrative for Chinese airlines.

China’s high-speed rail network has been developing rapidly over the past decade, reaching a total of 8,358 kilometres, the world’s longest.

It was expected to reach 16,000 kilometres by 2015, Xinhua cited minister Liu as saying.

China planned to invest 3 trillion to 4 trillion yuan in its high-speed rail network between 2011 and 2015, state media said last month. ($1=6.604 Yuan) (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Chris Lewis)