A freight train ferry left Lushun in Dalian City, northeast China's Liaoning Province, at 8 a.m. Monday for Yantai, a port city in east China's Shandong Province, marking the start of railway transport across the Bohai Sea.
It is the first train ferry on the Bohai Sea, a horseshoe-shaped sea with an area of 77,000 sq km in north China.
The ferry, a roll-on roll-off vessel 182.6 meters in length and 24.8 meters wide, can carry a 50-car freight train, 50 twenty-ton trucks, 25 passenger cars and 480 passengers.
Designers said it can withstand strong winds of up to 20 meters per second.
For the maiden voyage from Lushun to Yantai, the ferry only carried 50 railway cars loaded with cargo such as timber and grain. The ferry is expected to reach Yantai in six hours.
The new service cuts the trip from Yantai to Dalian by 1,800 km. Currently, more than 18 million tons of cargo and 7 million people travel between Dalian and Yantai a year.
It is the second marine ferry service in the country and the longest. China's first rail transport ferry sails the Qiongzhou Strait in south China, connecting Haikou on Hainan Island with Hai'an in Guangdong Province.
Begun in 2004, the 3.1 billion-yuan (about 387.5 million U.S. dollars) project stretches 159.8 kilometers. It is the longest in China and is also the 35th ferry service in the world with a length of more than 100 kilometers. The ferry itself cost 440 million yuan (about 55 million U.S. dollars).
The ferry boat is driven by a special electrical propulsion system, the first time such a system has been used in China, according to the senior management of Sinorail Bohai Train Ferry Co., Ltd.
The system is more expensive than a diesel propulsion system but it can save 1,500 tons of fuel and 30 tons of lubricating oil every year.
Currently, the fuel price in China is about 2,400 yuan (about 300 U.S. dollars) per ton and lubricating oil 1,000 yuan (about 125 U.S. dollars) per ton. Using these figures, the system saves 3.9 million yuan (about 487,500 U.S. dollars) each year compared with a diesel propulsion system, said Tianjin New Harbor Shipping Company, builder of the ferry boat.
The company said a second ferry boat of the same size and function will be put into use at the beginning of 2007, increasing its transport capacity to six million tons every year.
Insiders said the Yantai-Dalian train ferry will foster closer relations among China's three economic circles in the northeast, around the Bohai Sea and in the eastern Yangtze River Delta.