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300km/h train service starts in China
Harmony bullet trains are seen at a high-speed train maintenance base in Wuhan, Hubei province on December 25, 2012. Picture: Reuters/Stringer

China has started service on the world’s longest high-speed rail route, the latest milestone in the country’s rapid and - sometimes troubled - super fast rail network.

The opening of the new 2298-kilometre line, between Beijing and Guangzhou, means passengers will be whisked from the capital to the southern commercial hub in less than a third of the 22 hours previously required.

China Central Television broadcast the departure of the first train live from Beijing West Railway Station and also carried live reports from inside, showing passengers snapping commemorative photos.

Trains will travel at an average speed of 300 kilometres per hour over the line, which includes 35 stops in major cities such as Zhengzhou, Wuhan on the Yangtze River and Changsha.

State media have reported that December 26 was chosen to start passenger service to commemorate the birth in 1893 of revered Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

The Beijing-Guangzhou route was made possible with the completion of a line between Zhengzhou and Beijing. High-speed sections linking Zhengzhou and Wuhan, and Wuhan and Guangzhou, were already in service.

An attendant stands inside a high-speed train during an organized experience trip from Beijing to Zhengzhou. Picture: Reuters/China Daily

China’s high-speed rail network was established in 2007, but has fast become the world’s largest with 8358 kilometres of track at the end of 2010.

That is expected to almost double to 16,000 kilometres by 2020.

The network, however, has been plagued by graft and safety scandals, most notably a deadly bullet train collision in July 2011 that killed 40 people and sparked a public outrage.

A policeman watches while a CRH high-speed train leaves the Beijing West Railway Station for a test run on part of Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed railway line in Beijing, China, Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012. Picture: AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan

The accident was China’s worst rail disaster since 2008 and caused a torrent of criticism aimed at the government, amid accusations that authorities compromised safety in their rush to expand the network.

Authorities say they have taken steps ahead of the new line’s opening to improve maintenance and inspection of infrastructure, including track, rolling stock and emergency response measures.

“The emergency rescue system and all kinds of emergency pre-plans are established to improve emergency response ability,” according to a ministry booklet.

Attendants pose for pictures inside a high-speed train. China has opened the world's longest high-speed rail line - a link between Beijing and the southern metropolis of Guangzhou. Picture: Reuters/China Daily
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