The new Beijing-Shanghai high-speed line opens for business this June, a year ahead of schedule, and will cut travel times between the two cities to three hours and fifty-eight minutes.
The 1,318-kilometre railway will dramatically reduce the rail time between China's capital and its largest economic hub from ten hours to just under four. China estimates a whopping 220,000 passengers will use the railway line each day.
With travel times that fast, it looks increasingly likely that the Beijing-Shanghai travel landscape will be changed as radically by high speed rail as the Madrid-Barcelona or London-Paris/Brussels routes were when the AVE and Eurostar opened. Flights between those destinations have decreased dramatically as travellers avoid out-of-town airports and travel from centre to centre by rail.
In Beijing, the terminus is the new Beijing South station, just off the south second ring road and with its own station on Beijing's subway line 4. That's pretty central for Beijing.
Shanghai's new Hongqiao station, just west of the existing Hongqiao domestic airport, is less central, but the station links into lines 2, 5 and 10 of the Shanghai Metro.
How to buy tickets
There's no word yet on ticket prices, but expect them to undercut the airlines fairly significantly. However, while China's air travel system is fairly simple to book, trains are a bit more complicated.
Currently, trains open for reservation just 10-20 days before departure, and for the most part can only be sold by the station from which your train will leave.
The easiest way to buy train tickets is to get your hotel to do it for you. Just about every business-calibre hotels will have a travel agent attached, with English speaking staff. The surcharge for the agency should be around RMB 50-100 -- that's $7-15 Australian.
The opening of the route may be a few months away yet, but get your request in to your hotel sooner rather than later, as it's likely to be rather popular.
Australian Business Traveller top tips
Travelling by rail in China for the first time can be a little confusing. If you're not travelling with an old hand, here are a few pointers:
double-check which of the several Beijing and Shanghai stations your train is going to, and make sure you end up at the right one
- if you don't read Chinese, the station itself may be a bit confusing. To navigate the destination boards, try to memorise the characters Beijing (??), Shanghai (??) and platform (??), and take special note of your train number, which will look like Z12 or D123
- ask the travel agent to write out your carriage and seat number in English so you know where you're going on the platform
- for a last resort, get your hotel or travel agent to write out a card in Chinese explaining that you are a foreigner who doesn't speak Mandarin, but is travelling from A to B on train C departing at D.
- the Shanghai and Beijing dialects are a bit different, so consider having a printout of the address and place you're going in your destination city ready to hand to the taxi driver if necessary
Have you travelled by train in China? Any top tips or secrets you'd like to share? Let us know in the comments section below.