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Railways witness China's rising power

(Xinhua)    20:03, February 04, 2015

BEIJING, Feb. 4-- This year's Spring Festival will be the first time Wu Rongrong uses China's bullet train to return home.

The 2,000 km trip from Beijing, where the 27-year-old works selling sporting goods, to her home city of Guilin in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous region will take about 10 hours, a huge improvement on the 28 hours the journey once took her on slow trains.

The convenience, however, comes at a cost, with the price of her high speed rail ticket three times that of ordinary trains, still half the cost of a flight. But speed and comfort are the most important when making such a long journey, she says.

China's massive Lunar New Year travel rush started on Wednesday. An estimated 2.8 billion trips will take place during the 40-day period as a majority of the country's population returns home for family reunions.

Several new high-speed railway lines with a total length of about 5,000 km were put into operation at the end of last year, expanding the access of bullet trains to remote western provinces or regions such as Xinjiang, Gansu and Guizhou.

Twenty-eight out of the mainland's 31 provinces now have access to bullet trains, just six years after the country's first such line which links Tianjin to Beijing in 2008.

The widespread accessibility of the service has some people saying China has entered an era of high-speed railways.

China's 130 history with rail is marked by different feelings and expectations from each generation.

When China's first railway line, the 14.5-km-long Wusong railway in Shanghai, was built by British merchants in 1876, it was opposed by the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) officials in power, who were wary of outside influence after several invasions by Western forces.

Today, high-speed railways have been a remarkable symbol of China's rising national strength.

"To be prosperous and strong, China must build railways," said Wang Mengshu, an academician of China Academy of Engineering and railway tunnel expert.

Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), a forerunner of China's anti-feudalism revolution, once laid out a plan to build a national railway network with a total length of 160,000 km.

But due to invasions, domestic turmoil and wars, China only had 21,800 km of railway lines in 1949.

Now, China has 110,000 km of rails, including 16,000 km of high-speed lines. The length of China's high-speed rail lines accounts for more than half of that of the world.

After years of technological upgrades and innovations, China's high-speed railway technologies are among the most advanced in the world.

"The increase of speed has made inter-city distances closer. More people choose high-speed railways for travel. I feel my job rather worthwhile," said Xue Jun, a 47-year-old bullet train driver in east China's Shandong Province.

Since the end of the 1980s, Xue has driven steam, diesel and electric locomotives, feeling deeply proud of the rapid development of the country's railway industry.

"Bullet trains are one of the most important highlights in the country's massive industrialization over the past 30 years of reform and opening up," said Zhang Yiwu, a professor with Peking University.

The high-speed trains also mark China's rising power and influence globally, he said.

Bullet train services will further improve the quality of people's life and contribute to the rapid development of underdeveloped areas, said Zhang.

Yet the country's booming railway sector sparked worries and doubts after a bullet train collision left 40 people dead on July 23, 2011 in Wenzhou, east China's Zhejiang Province.

The accident has nothing to do with train speed as the train was not speeding when the collision occurred, said Wang, who joined the official investigation into the cause of the tragedy.

Despite that, China's high-speed technology, as a leading global technology, has greatly boosted national moral, Wang said.

Last year, bullet trains transported more than 800 million passengers in China.

Recently, the country's high-speed railway equipment manufacturers have sped up efforts to "go overseas" for investment and projects. The technology is often used by politicians as a means for cooperation with other countries.

A high-speed railway line between Beijing and Zhangjiakou is expected to start construction this year, which will cut the travel time of the two cities to about 50 minutes from more than three hours via current trains.

With Beijing and Zhangjiakou bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, winning would be a perfect opportunity to further showcase the country's high-speed rail technology to the world.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Ma Xiaochun,Bianji)

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