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The world's fastest train journey starts, rather appropriately, at the futuristic-looking Beijing South Railway Station, which looks like a recently landed UFO, especially at night when the building glows blue.
The train is sleek white with a pronounced bottlenose. Carriage interiors seem more airplane than train. The livery is soothing grey, the seats navy blue in second class, stylish red in first. There are fold-down tables and cabin attendants in spiffy uniforms, their hair in tight buns.
Settle yourself in without any further ado because, within seven minutes of departure, your train reaches 300km/h – an electronic screen at the front of each carriage indicates speed – and Beijing is gone in a blur. China's high-speed trains have reached 487km/h in trials, but 350km/h is the maximum speed on commercial routes.
WANG HE/GETTY IMAGES
Hundreds of high-speed trains at a maintenance base in Wuhan, China.
The fastest trains only stop once at Nanjing South and take four hours, 48 minutes to reach Shanghai's western suburbs some 1300 kilometres away. Other trains make more frequent stops (six or seven), adding 30 minutes to travel time. There are actually 24 stations on the high-speed line, but some are only served by slower trains, which nevertheless zip along at an impressive 250km/h.
It's tempting to make the whole journey in one go just so you can say you've done it, and some stops are more commonly relevant to travelling sales- and business-people than tourists.
Still, there are some cities where you ought to consider disembarking. The first, Tianjin, arrives before you've even had time to relax – it's only 146 kilometres down the track. The big financial and educational centre has quite a history as an old port on the confluence of the ocean, rivers and Grand Canal, an extraordinary engineering project that linked imperial China from north to south.
Get a dizzying view over the city from the 415-metre Tianjin Broadcasting TV Tower, even if the observation deck is only halfway up. On a more intimate level, Tianjin is about walking riverside promenades and neighbourhoods dotted with 1920s European-style villas.
The former British Concession is just across the bridge from the railway station and looks like a suburb of Brighton. Plunder the pedestrian streets around the drum tower – a feature of various old Chinese cities and used to accommodate signal drums – for calligraphy, silks, ceramics and other souvenirs.
This article first appeared on www.stuff.co.nz
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