High-speed rail spurs debate over prices

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, September 26, 2012
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A bullet train arrives at a station in Chenzhou, Central China's Hunan province, on the Wuhan-Guangzhou line, July 16, 2012. [Photo/Asianewsphoto]

A bullet train arrives at a station in Chenzhou, Central China's Hunan province, on the Wuhan-Guangzhou line, July 16, 2012. [Photo/Asianewsphoto]

A faster way of travel but with higher cost, high-speed rail in China continues to divide opinion.

The unveiling of high ticket prices for a new high-speed line set to open on Friday is garnering a new slew of controversy as many plan trips during the Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day holidays that run from September 30 to October 7.

Bullet trains on the Zhengzhou-Wuhan line, which also helps to connect several other major cities with existing lines in central and southern China, will run up to 300 km per hour and cut travel times by more than half. The downside is that prices for high-speed train tickets are about three times those for standard trains.

The high-speed train services are clearly better travel options for those who care little about the costs. Tickets around the busy travel season sold out soon after becoming available for booking.

A microblgger under the name of "tinybin" wrote on Sina Weibo, a popular Twitter-like service, that he often buy full-price air tickets during holidays, so he will consider the new, cheaper alternative.

The new line also offers a better option for people who don't like to spend a long time traveling or those who have a phobia of flying.

"It's very good news for people like me who fear air travel, "wrote a poster going by the name "Heibaipeipyf."

But for many low-income earners, particularly migrant workers, the high-speed train services are expensive.

The high ticket prices, coupled with a reduction in slower but cheaper train services, triggered a torrent of public complaints.

High-speed rail was supposed to be a good thing as it offers a new option, wrote a user of Sina Weibo under the name "Fanluntiannu."

"But after seeing the high prices, I was torn between choosing high-speed trains and flights for quite a while," the microblogger wrote.

Expensive fares have already led to high vacancy rates on many high-speed trains running on currently operational lines, leaving many slower trains packed with passengers without any seats.

A photo of a crammed train carriage with many standing and sitting in the aisle posted on Sina Weibo on Tuesday has prompted many to call again for a rethink of high-speed train ticket pricing policies.

"I hope the nation will show more care toward these people by lowering the prices of bullet train tickets a bit. Blessings to the good people far away from home," commented netizen "Lixiyougu" to the photo posting.

"Each year before the traditional Lunar New Year holiday, I often see rural migrants give up buying tickets when only high-speed train tickets are available," wrote "Tutuxixi." "The high prices leave them with no choice. It's very sad to see this kind of scene."

Many also said they would prefer to travel by air as flight tickets, discounted by about 50 percent on an average day, cost almost the same as high-speed rail services.

Even in the middle of last year, after the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway began operating, the public queried the price of tickets, complaining there was no opportunity to provide feedback on how pricey they were. The Ministry of Railways responded that the tickets were at trial prices and the initial operation period didn't need any price hearings.

"A network of high-speed railway lines has formed. Will it be that the ministry will let the initial operation go on and on?" a Sina Weibo poster nicknamed "Zhuluzhongyuan1111" questioned.

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