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Competition Heats up for Passengers
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Rail and air travel operators are going to head to head as they compete for high-end customers on key routes.


The Ministry of Railways said recently that high-quality mineral water, produced in the Tibet Autonomous Region, will be provided free to all passengers on long-distance bullet trains this month.


The water, which comes in in 330 ml bottles, retails for about 6 yuan (79 cents), much higher than regular brands, and even first-class airline passengers do not get such refreshments free of charge, the ministry said.


When it comes to service, attendants on bullet trains are trained to the same standards as hotel staff, an official with the news office of the Shanghai railway bureau said yesterday. In addition, the catering providers were chosen through public bidding and are as good as those operating on airlines, the official, who asked not to be named, said.


The upgraded service and faster traveling speed have helped greatly boost occupancy rates on bullet trains, he said.


"Our daily bullet train between Beijing and Shanghai has been full since the speedup on April 18", the official said.


The journey takes 10 hours and tickets are priced at 327 yuan and 409 yuan, less than half the cost of an air ticket between the two cities, he said.


In response, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said on Sunday that five domestic airlines had joined forces to offer the Beijing-Shanghai Express Flight service, which made its maiden flight on Monday.


The service promises flights between the two cities every 30 minutes and passengers can use a single ticket on any of the five participating airlines. They will also benefit from faster check-in times, the CAAC said.


Travel experts have said the new promotions and services are a clear indication of the "accelerating" competition between rail and air travel providers.


"Traditionally, air travel has had the upper hand when it comes to long-distance travel - 1,000 km or more - such as between Beijing and Shanghai," Wu Wenhua, a researcher with the National Development and Reform Commission's comprehensive transport institute told China Daily in a phone interview yesterday.


"But the Beijing-Shanghai route has such a huge passenger flow that neither rail nor air travel operators can afford to take their eye of the ball in the battle for market share," he said.


CAAC figures show that 4.18 million passengers flew between Beijing and Shanghai Hongqiao Airport in 2006, equivalent to about 11,000 per day.


The Ministry of Railways declined to provide its passenger numbers for the route.


(China Daily August 8, 2007)


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