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A new 658km high-speed rail service will be up and running in western China on Wednesday, linking Xian, home of China’s famed terracotta warriors, to Chengdu in the heart of giant panda country.
With a top speed up to 250km/h, the new line took five years to build, winds through one of China’s most mountainous areas and will cut the rail journey between the two cities from about 11 hours to 3½ hours, according to Xinhua.
The new line will not be the fastest in China but it will form a key part of the country’s national high-speed railway system, linking the upstream areas of the Yellow and Yangtze rivers via 127 bridges and 34 tunnels.
Ticket sales started on Sunday, with a second-class ticket for the full journey costing 263 yuan (US$40), the report said.
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In about a decade, China’s high-speed railway network went from zero to 22,000km at the end of last year, becoming the biggest of its kind in the world.
China plans to have 30,000km of high-speed rail in operation by 2020, linking 80 per cent of its major cities.
China’s extensive investments in railways have been a priority in its five-year development plans, and a major export under its “Belt and Road Initiative”.
But the rapid roll-out has raised safety concerns. Potential safety problems were discovered on the newly opened Shanghai-Kunming line, prompting operator China Railway to punish various companies involved in the line’s construction, supervision, and design along the route in Guizhou province, state-owned outlet Thepaper.cn reported last month.
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In 2011, a deadly train collision in the southeastern city of Wenzhou resulted in train speeds being capped at 300km/h for several years.
The railways have also raised environmental concerns. The Xian-Chengdu route will be the first to cut through the ecologically important Qinling Mountain range, a natural boundary between northern and southern China. The area is home to many endangered species, including giant pandas and crested ibis.
To protect the birds a net was installed along a 33km section of the line in Yang county in Shaanxi near the site of a crested ibis nature reserve.
This article first appeared on www.scmp.com
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