On Saturday, China’s new Wuhan-Guangzhou high-speed railway, dubbed the Harmony Express, began operations as the fastest train service in the world. Connecting 20 cities throughout central and south China, the electric train runs on a ballast-less track and averages speeds of 217 mph – squeezing the 683-mile journey into less than 3 hours (it typically takes 10) and trumping the pace of similar "bullet" trains in Germany (144 mph), Japan (150mph), and France (172 mph). With massive plans to expand its high-speed rail service to 42 lines by 2012 – with networks running between 70 percent of China's key cities by 2020 – the country is now leading the budding revolution in modern transportation from plane (back) to train.
A chairman of China Southern Airlines, the country’s largest domestic carrier, admitted upon the Harmony Express’s debut that high-speed train travel boasts significant advantages over air in terms of convenience, punctuality, and safety records. In light of the new train’s offerings and highly competitive rates with air routes (a second class ticket is $72) the airline revealed counter tactics to win over passenger’s wallets earlier this month, like slashing airfare to as low as $38 (260 yuan) between the same cities.
Despite Eurostar’s embarrassing fiasco in the U.K. last week (when ice stalled service in the Channel Tunnel for over three days, backlogging 75,000 passengers), train travel is quickly becoming a more efficient, emissions-friendly, and economical means of commercial transport between many major cities around the world. Next year, plans are set to be unveiled for a new 250 mph high-speed rail link between London and Scotland, and a California track network has been in the works in the U.S. for years. This past spring, President Obama announced plans to develop 600 miles of high-speed lines connecting major cities across the country – pledging $13 billion to jumpstart the project and finally put America’s outdated train service on the right track.