It's official. The first of China's record-breaking high-speed trains set to reduce travel time between Beijing and Shanghai to just five hours left their respective stations at 3:00 pm this afternoon. They are, as I write, whizzing along at a phenomenal pace of 300 km/h to arrive at their final destinations at 8:02pm... a journey that 50 years ago would have taken two days.
Three years and RMB 221 billion in the making, it's a pretty impressive feat by any standards, especially when you consider that it's a year ahead of schedule. It hasn't, however, all been plain sailing. Controversy over ticket prices, allegations of corruption and questions over safety standards all cast a cloud over the pre-launch period and saw speeds slowed down from the proposed 380 km/h to 300 km/h.
How the new link will affect travel trends between the two cities remains to be seen—in the past new high-speed rail links have led to a reduction of flights between destinations such as Wuhan and Nanjing and the Harmony Train between Chongqing and Chengdu saw flights between the two cities stopped altogether.
However, for anyone considering a spot of Shanghai in the near future, the new line could be doing their pockets a favor as airlines react by offering discount prices on Beijing-Shanghai flights to compete with the new train.
For the next few weeks at least, one-way airfares currently start at just RMB 400... cheaper than the "cheap" train seats that ring in at RMB 555 on the fastest non-stop service. First-class train tickets will set passengers back RMB 935 and one of the six VIP "sightseeing seats"—flatbed comfort looking out over the driver and down the oncoming tracks—is a hefty RMB 1,700, the equivalent of a quarter of the disposable income of the average Chinese city-dweller, according to the Wall Street Journal. I think I'll book that Shanghai-Beijing flight after all...