China is set to enter the high-speed railway club, with its first 350kmh-passenger train traveling between Beijing and Tianjin scheduled for launch on August 1st.
The new service is expected to cut travel time for the 120-km route by half, making the ride less than 30 minutes.
"From now on, China will possess one of the world's fastest high-speed rail services," said Zhang Shuguang, deputy chief engineer of the Ministry of Railways.
In comparison, high-speed trains in Spain and Japan run at 320kmh, while those in France, Germany and Italy travel at 300kmh, Zhang said.
And for the passengers who were invited to experience the service during a trial, riding the trains was "just as comfortable" as being on slower ones.
Sitting in one of the swivel seats on board a sleek carriage of the new service, Beijinger Zhang Tao said she did not feel dizzy or uncomfortable.
The pleasant interior of the carriage, similar to a passenger aircraft's, helped.
"I didn't even notice that the train was already going that fast, until somebody announced the speed of 350 kmh about 10 minutes after the train left the railway station," she said."If there was any detectable difference, it would be that the cars running on the freeways beside the railway looked even slower."
With traveling time between the two cities shortened by the new rail, many couples who cannot afford apartments in the capital can now consider those in Tianjin.
"Young people may think about working in Beijing and living in Tianjin, because commuting between the capital and Tianjin will soon be as easy as taking the bus," said Zhang Shuguang.
As for the ticket price of the new service, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) yesterday said the rail company will decide on one for the year-long trial, after which the final price will be announced following legal procedures.
Zhang said a first-class ticket for the trip will be about 70 yuan ($10) and a second-class one, 60 yuan.
The NDRC also said that other rail services between Beijing and Tianjin should not be reduced, to keep up with various demands of commuters.
For the Chinese engineers behind the new rail, rolling out the transport marvel goes beyond the basic requirements of speed, comfort and convenience.
"To provide the high-speed rail service, we have had to conquer at least three obstacles," the ministry's Zhang Shuguang said.
The trains' operation control system is one of the core technologies that needs mastering, he said.
Its difficulty lies in getting the trains to keep a safe distance between one another and preventing them from colliding with each other or slower trains -- a challenge that may not seem like a big one for slower rail, he said.
"Trains running at 350kmh can equal the speed of airplanes taking off, or at 100m per second," Zhang said.
Only four countries have mastered such technology, he said.
Such expertise has made it possible for the 350-kmh trains to leave the railway station every five minutes during peak hours, and every 10 minutes during non-peak hours, Zhang said.
The second core technology is in synthesizing up to seven rail coordination systems, each with up to 70,000 parts, and making them work as one to maintain track performance, he said. It is something China has also acquired on its own after years of research and experience, he said.
The third core technology of high-speed railways involves the design and manufacture of high-speed trains themselves.
"When a train runs at 350kmh, it will produce an environment of 'negative air pressure.' Designing the high-speed train's air-conditioning system becomes a difficult task, because the train can draw objects into the carriage through any opening, like a big vacuum," he said.
The authorities chose to cooperate with foreign companies that had the necessary expertise, like Germany-based Siemens, to meet such challenges. Under a joint project between the Tangshan Railway Transportation Equipment Company and Siemens, Chinese engineers completed the requisite designs and submitted it to Siemens, who were involved in the industrial certification of the project, Zhang said.
The final product, the CRH-3 (China Railway High-speed) train, is unique to China.
"The entire design is made to suit our needs. As agreed, we own the intellectual property rights of this type of high-speed train," the ministry's Zhang Shuguang said.
Except for three trains manufactured in Germany, the other 57 trains were all produced locally, in Tangshan. Each costs 200 million yuan, Zhang said.
The trains on the Beijing-Tianjin line are also upgrades carried out by Chinese engineers based on the 200-250kmh bullet trains, under a cooperation program between China and Japan.
1. How fast will the high-speed Beijing to Tianjin train go?
2. What is one of the biggest engineering obstacles in constructing the train?
3. How much will tickets for the new train cost?
1. 350 kmh.
2. Keeping the cars a safe distance apart.
3. 60 to 70 yuan.
（英语点津 Helen 编辑）
About the broadcaster:
Meghan Peters is a foreign language expert at China Daily’s Web site. A recent graduate from the University of Washington in Seattle, Meghan has written for The Seattle Times, the Seattle Post Intelligencer and the Seattle Weekly, where she also worked on various multimedia projects.