Li Zhiqun, who moved to Beijing for better employment, can now visit his home in Tianjin’s Nankai District more often, thanks to the country’s first high-speed rail, the Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Railway, which began operation in 2008.
Before then, he had to take a bus between the two cities, which normally took at least two hours each way. That is without traffic jams, which became increasingly frequent along highways connecting the two metropolises and would cause his trip to take much longer. “At that time, I went back home two or three times a month,” Li recalls. “The trip was a bit tough. Sometimes I had to work late on Friday evenings, and when I got off, the intercity buses weren’t running. If I was lucky, I could catch the 9 o’clock train, so I could arrive home around 11 p.m. or midnight.”
Currently, 70 pairs of trains run daily along the Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Railway, and the number may increase to 100 to meet surging demands during holidays. On average, a train departs from Beijing to Tianjin every 15 minutes, and cuts one-way travel time between the cities to only 30 minutes. “Now, I can go home at least twice a week,” Li smiles. “It is common for Beijingers to spend 30-50 minutes getting home from work. Now, sometimes I can beat my Beijing-native colleagues home.” Not long ago, he purchased an electronic fast pass for the Beijing-Tianjin Railway, which allowed him on the train with a simple swipe, negating the need to waste time buying a ticket at the railway station.
Similar tales abound along China’s new high-speed rails. On December 3, 2010, another lightning-fast miracle occurred. At 11:28 a.m., a CRH-380A train set a speed record by reaching 486.1 kilometers per hour during a test run along the newly completed Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway, moving more than 120 meters in a single second.
A Century-old Dream
On October 2, 1909, a steamer locomotive puffing thick black smoke crept away from Beijing, then the imperial capital of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), past the Great Wall, continuing northward towards Zhangjiakou, its whistle echoing through the rolling mountains along the way. That day, the Beijing-Zhangjiakou Railway, the first of its kind designed and constructed independently by Chinese people, began operation, marking the inception of the nation’s love affair with the rails.