Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway in track

Graphic shows China's Beijing-Shanghai high speed railway line completed track laying on Nov. 15, 2010. [Xinhua/Zhang Liyun]

The laying of tracks for the high-speed railway connecting Beijing and Shanghai, China's two most important cities, was completed Monday morning, in the latest milestone in the construction of the world's longest high-speed railway.

The 1,318-kilometer-long line will link Beijing, the Chinese capital in the north of the nation, and Shanghai, the country's eastern economic hub.

Construction on the 220.9 billion yuan (33.3 billion U.S. dollars) project started in April 2008. The line is scheduled to open in 2012.

Once completed, train travel time between the two cities will be slashed to about four hours from the current 10 hours.

The line will link China's two important economic zones - the Pan-Bohai Bay area in north China and the Yangtze River Delta region - by passing through some of China's richest and fast-developing provincial-level regions - Tianjin, Shandong and Jiangsu.

China launched its first high-speed line - a service linking the capital and the port city of Tianjin - at the time of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Since then, more fast-train lines have been put into service: the Wuhan-Guangzhou line linking central and south China; the Zhengzhou-Xi'an line connecting central and western China; and the Shanghai-Nanjing line in the country's east.

Last month, a 202-km high-speed line linking Shanghai and Hangzhou, capital of east China's Zhejiang Province, came into operation, extending the nation's in-service high-speed rail network to 7,431 kilometers.

The Shanghai-Hangzhou line stunned the world with one train's record speed of 416.6 kilometers per hour while on a trial run.

China aims to make its high speed rail network the world's longest to boost economic growth.

According to the Ministry of Commerce, China will have a rail network of 110,000 km by 2012, with 13,000 km of it high-speed rail.

He Huawu, chief engineer of the Ministry of Railways, said high speed railway transportation would boost China's economic restructuring with its fast speed, large carrying capacities, convenience, and environmentally friendly nature.

Zhen Feng, a professor at Nanjing University, said the advancement of transportation always results in economic development, improved division of labor, and a more balanced development between regions.

Still, the rapid expansion of the nation's railway network has met with some opposition.

According to a report from the China Academy of Science (CAS), one of the country's top think tanks, the loans that have supported the rapid expansion of rail may not be sustainable.

Besides, the acceleration in infrastructure investment after the launch of the stimulus package has caused disconnections between transport services across the country, leaving highways, subways, train stations and airports not properly connected, it said.

The report, submitted to the State Council, China's cabinet, urged authorities to reconsider whether the government should make such massive investments in infrastructure, especially in high-speed rail.

Chinese authorities announced a 4 trillion yuan economic stimulus package in November 2008 to combat the global financial crisis. A large part of the package was for infrastructure construction.

( Xinhua , November 15 , 2010 )