BEIJING/TIANJIN, China (Reuters) - With its swivel seats, spacious, plush interiors and the largest railway station in Asia, China has high hopes for a new express link from Beijing to nearby Tianjin, the fastest rail service on the planet.
The railway will open next Friday, in time for next month’s Beijing Olympics, and will shuttle people to soccer events in Tianjin, one of the Games’ co-host cities.
It will chop one hour off the current rail journey, reducing it to a 30-minute hop, taking passengers at a top speed of 350 kmph (220 mph) on special sleek trains with interiors that look more like aircraft cabins.
Reporters were given a sneak preview of the ultra-modern trains on a government-organized trip on Tuesday, zipping through the lush countryside past massive housing developments and deserted highways.
“This is a revolution in terms of ramping up the speed of Chinese railways,” Railway Ministry spokesman Wang Yongping told reporters at the cavernous new Beijing South railway station, which he said was the largest in Asia.
Trains can run on the 20 billion yuan ($2.93 billion) new Tianjin line every three minutes, and each train can carry around 600 people between landlocked Beijing and its port city neighbor.
Ticket prices have yet to be set, though Wang said it would be “within the limits of what the masses can accept”.
Planners have thought big.
The Beijing South railway station will eventually connect to two subway lines — the Tianjin terminus will connect to three — and there are enough platforms for the future high-speed railway to Shanghai, expected to open within the next five years.
The Beijing South station has solar panels on the roof and 24 platforms to cope with what officials see as massive future demand for travel in the rapidly developing country.
Even airports have been included in the master plan, with one of the Shanghai stations planned next to the city’s Hongqiao airport, and space included for a station at Tianjin’s recently expanded Binhai international airport.
“We are planning for the future with this new station,” Wang said.
The new, Chinese-built trains have seats that swivel to face in the direction of travel, and are much wider than equivalent European express trains, said Zhang Shuguang, head of the Railway Ministry’s Transport Bureau.
They have hit speeds of 394 kmph in tests, although they will only run at 350 kmph during normal operations, he added.
“Its operational speed is the fastest in the world. It’s very comfortable and quiet,” Zhang said. “There’s a French train that has gone 500 kmph in tests, but only in tests.”