BEIJING -- China launched services Wednesday on the world's longest high-speed rail route, the latest milestone in the country's rapid and -- sometimes troubled -- super-fast rail network.
The opening of the 1,425-mile line between Beijing and Guangzhou means passengers will be whisked from the capital to the southern commercial hub in just eight hours, compared with the 22 hours previously.
The train departing Beijing traveled at an average speed of 300 kilometers per hour and made stops in four cities -- Shijiazhuang, Zhengzhou, Wuhan on the Yangtze River and Changsha -- before arriving in Guangzhou.
State media have reported that December 26 was chosen to start the Beijing-Guangzhou service to commemorate the birth in 1893 of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong.
The Beijing-Guangzhou route was made possible with the completion of a line between Zhengzhou and Beijing. High-speed sections linking Zhengzhou and Wuhan and Wuhan and Guangzhou were already in service.
China's high-speed rail network was only established in 2007 but has fast become the world's largest. The official Xinhua news agency said China now operates 9,300 kilometers of high-speed railways.
The state-run China Daily newspaper said Wednesday the high-speed rail network is set to jump to 50,000 kilometers by 2020, with four main lines running north and south and another four east and west.
Trains Now Built by China
China has relied on technology transfers from foreign companies, including Alstom, Siemens and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, to develop its high-speed network.
But the country is now seeking to capitalize on what it has learned and has been building high-speed rail networks in countries such as Turkey and Venezuela.
The China News Service said the major type of train running on the Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed route is produced by state-owned China CNR Corp, headquartered in Beijing and founded in June 2008.
China's domestic network, while a symbol of its emergence as the world's second largest economy, has also been plagued by graft and safety scandals, such as a collision in July 2011 that killed 40 people. The accident was China's worst rail disaster since 2008 and caused a torrent of public criticism of the government amid accusations that authorities compromised safety in their rush to expand the network.
Authorities said they took steps ahead of the new line's opening to improve maintenance and inspection of infrastructure, and emergency response measures.Still, safety concerns remain.The Global Times newspaper on Wednesday quoted a Ministry of Railways official acknowledging continuing problems despite intense efforts to solve them during trial runs.
"We can't make sure it's error-proof in the future, and we have been subject to a lot of pressure from the public," Zhao Chunlei, deputy chief of the ministry's transportation department, told the paper.
Kelly Olsen, AFP
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012