SHENYANG -- The world's first high-speed railway in areas with extremely low temperature, which runs through three provinces in northeastern China, started operation on Saturday as part of the country's efforts to revitalize the old industrial base.
Four trains with the initial of "G" left the stations in Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang, Changchun, capital of Jilin, Shenyang, capital of Liaoning, and Dalian, port city in Liaoning, simultaneously at 9 am Saturday to mark the operation of the 921-km line.
The high-speed railway with designed speeds of up to 350 km per hour went into service after passing a two-month test during which the region had been hit by blizzards and harsh cold as low as 40 degrees Celsius below zero.
"The operation of Harbin-Dalian high-speed railway signals a great progress in the building of a 'four-vertical' and 'four-horizontal' high-speed rail network," said Lu Chunfang, vice minister of the Ministry of Railways.
So far, China has 8,600 kilometers of operating high-speed railways, ranking it first globally.
Sixty-seven pairs of trains will shuttle daily on the new Harbin-Dalian line.
The longest train between Harbin and Dalian on the line will take just three hours when the train runs at an average of 300 km per hour.
Trains will run between Shenyang and Harbin at hourly intervals, and between Shenyang and Dalian at half-hourly intervals.
The first CRH380B train to leave Shenyang North Station on the line on Saturday was fully loaded with some 500 passengers.
Passenger Zhan Hongge, a train enthusiast, said he bought the train fare as a memento.
"The Harbin-Dalian Railway was first built by Russians and Japanese 100 years ago, and it was used as their colonial tool to control northeast China. Today, the operation of China's independently developed high-speed railway is a testimony to the nation's revival," he said.
The high-speed rail track runs parallel with the old line, on which 105 pairs of trains will still shuttle daily.
Fares for the high-speed railway, although higher than those of regular trains on the old line, are much lower than for cross-province coaches.
Economic full steam ahead
Zhou Li, director of the railway ministry's department in charge of technology, said in addition to easing a passenger transport bottleneck, the railway allows for an additional 11.5 million tonnes of cargo to be transported through the northeast China region per year.
Travel agencies have also placed high hopes on the new line boosting winter travel featuring skiing, ice sculpture and sea food.
Agency China Comfort Travel has mapped out high-quality travel routes in the three provinces, to capitalize on an anticipated "travel boom" in the winter snow sport season arriving with the operation of the highs-speed railway.
Wu Hongjian, head of the Liaoning Provincial Tourism Board, said the railway will usher in an era of "barrier-free travel" in the far-flung northeast China region.
Running in temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius, the new line's safety requirements have drawn wide attention.
"In trial operation, trains ran as fast as 385 km, proof of the line's reliability," according to Zhou Li, technology official with the Ministry of Railways.
He said the ministry has conducted 22 research projects to target technology obstacles, including steady monitoring of the track condition to cope with the wide range of temperature differences in different seasons.
Still, to minimize the impact of extreme weather on operation, the ministry has created two schedules. Train speeds during the winter season (December 1 to March 31) will be limited to 200 km per hour, with the summer period (April 1 to November 30) allowing up to 300 km per hour.
Before the Harbin-Dalian line, the world had three high-speed railways running in frigid regions, including in Northern Europe and Russia, but they cannot match the length nor rapidity of China's new line. The three lines add up to a total length of less than 700 km. On the fastest of them, which links Moscow and St. Petersburg, trains can only run at a top speed of 250 km per hour for a maximum of about 20 minutes.
China is aiming to create a high-speed railway backbone featuring four east-west lines and four north-south lines by the end of 2015, under a five-year transport plan approved by the State Council, China's cabinet.
The Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed railway will open for service next month.
The country's total length of high-speed railway is expected to reach about 18,000 km by 2015.
As the railway helps realize "half-day travel" within the three provinces, it is expected to bring vitality to the "industrial corridor" linking the heavy chemical industry in Heilongjiang, automobile manufacturing in Jilin and the heavy machinery base in Liaoning as well as the sea outlet of Dalian.
High-speed railway links Northeast China