China's $34 billion high-speed rail network is up for its first big test on Thursday as a high-speed train from Beijing is scheduled to glide into Shanghai's Hongqiao railway station for its inaugural run. The event, coinciding with the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist party, is meant to showcase China's technological prowess.
Going by the first public test run for journalists Monday, China is vocally proud of its futuristic transport system that slashes the journey time between its two most important cities in half and delivers airline-like comfort.
The Ministry of Railways' chief engineer He Hua Wu, told reporters minutes before train G1 pulled out of Beijing that the train-link was the pride of China and Chinese people. He said the Harmony Express, which is named after Chinese President Hu Jintao's harmonious society slogan, is a gift to the ruling Communist Party.
The high-speed train between China's financial hub Shanghai and the capital Beijing travels at 300 kilometers per hour, radically cutting the travel time between the two cities and covering the roughly 1,300 kilometers in less than five hours.
While the facts certainly sound enticing, the project has become the focus of a national debate.
Here's a look at some of the pros and cons.
-The train system will likely spread economic development farther west.
-It will slash travel time between Chinese cities.
-It will spur trade and ease the flow of people and ideas.
-The construction, commodities and tourism industries are all likely reap huge benefits.
-Officials have admitted nearly $30 million of funds for the line were embezzled or otherwise misused. The corruption has heightened safety fears over worries that shoddy construction materials were used in the project.
-Pricey tickets (starting at $50) will further polarize China's already hugely divided rich/poor gap.
-There is no guarantee that the expensive seats will sell and this could strain the national budget for years.
-Environmentalists are concerned about the impact of tearing up countryside for new rail tracks.
All told, the economic payoff of this massive project is still uncertain. Accounting professor Ding Yuan at China Europe International Business School in Shanghai tells the Wall Street Journal, Physically, they are good assets. Financially, they are black holes.
In 2004, China's State Council, the country's highest governing body, approved a 12,000-kilometer (7,200 mile) high-speed rail system to weave together major Chinese cities by 2020. Leaders then revised that plan in 2008 to reach 16,000 kilometers. Local politicians saw a winner and proposed to build their own high-speed branch lines to the network to connect outlying cities.
The World Bank is financing $800 million in track equipment, arguing that trains traveling at speeds of at least 250 kilometers an hour (150 mph) provide a competitive advantage over airlines for trips of less than 750 kilometers (450 miles). China has an excess of big cities well within that distance from one another.
The project has been built using a mix of international rail technology that the Chinese have adapted for their use. China's ambitious construction plans in building the world's largest high-speed rail network have made them the world's leading experts in high-speed railway construction.
Here's a look at some photos of the new train: