The “world’s longest fast train line” for the day after Christmas: Beijing to Guangzhou in eight hours

While high speed rail continues to inch along in the United States, China continues to build. A new line opened yesterday connecting Beijing and Guangzhou:

The opening of the 2,298 kilometer (1,428 mile)-line was commemorated by the 9 a.m. departure of a train from Beijing for Guangzhou. Another train left Guangzhou for Beijing an hour later…

Trains on the latest high-speed line will initially run at 300 kph (186 mph) with a total travel time of about eight hours. Before, the fastest time between the two cities by train was more than 20 hours…

More than 150 pairs of high-speed trains will run on the new line every day, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing the Ministry of Railways.

Railway is an essential part in China’s transportation system, and the government plans to build a grid of high-speed railways with four east-west lines and four north-south lines by 2020.

When I see stories like this about infrastructure in China, I’m struck by three things:

1. The ability to construct these large infrastructure projects is remarkable. I wonder what China will do next. Faster trains? An even bigger rail network?

2. The contrast with transportation options in the United States is interesting. Our equivalent to high-speed trains is an extensive interstate network that connects all major cities. The interstate option plays on several American traits: it was built in the prosperous era after World War II, it allows more freedom for driving (which requires certain incomes and interest in driving), and it allows for more diffuse living patterns (meaning: suburbs).

3. I wish these stories were accompanied by ridership figures. Over 150 pairs of trains a day is impressive and these are two major population centers: Beijing has over 19 million people and Guangzhou has over 12 million people (and perhaps around 40 million in the Pearl River Delta). So are these trains going to be full? How much does it cost? Can the average Chinese resident ride these trains?