China has opened the first ever high-speed rail service in Xinjiang, the restive region in the country’s remote northwest.
The latest section of China’s fast-expanding high-speed railway network launched on Sunday, connecting Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, with Hami, 530km away in the east of the region.
This is the first stage of a longer 1,776km line that will connect Urumqi with Lanzhou, the capital of neighbouring Gansu province, and eventually the rest of China. Trains will be able to travel at speeds of up to 200kph.
Xinhua spoke to a passenger onboard the inaugural service. Sun Jiding first travelled between Lanzhou and Urumqi in 1983.
“I was told by railway staff that it will take only nine hours to Lanzhou from Urumqi once the whole high-speed railway is running at the end of this year,” Sun told the Chinese news agency. “It’s just unbelievable, compared with that 54-hour journey I first took.”
Construction on the new line began in November 2009 and is expected to cost CNY143.5 billion (US$23.4bn) once fully complete. It will run through Gansu and Qinghai provinces, before entering Xinjiang. At altitudes of up to 3,600 metres above sea level, it is the highest high-speed rail line in the world.
By 2017, travellers from Beijing will be able to reach Urumqi in 16 hours – down from the currently 40 hours – once all high-speed rail links between the cities are completed.
The Xinjiang high-speed rail line forms part of China’s broader efforts to improve infrastructure and accessibility to its remote western regions.