SHANGHAI/HANGZHOU, Oct. 26 (Xinhua) -- High-speed trains began traveling between the eastern Chinese cities of Shanghai and Hangzhou Tuesday morning, the latest milestone in China's effort to build the world's fastest rail network.
Two bullet trains equipped with China's CRH380A system simultaneously took off at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday from Shanghai's Hongqiao Station and from Hangzhou Station.
Trains on the line will travel at an average speed of 350 kilometers per hour, shortening the trip between to 45 minutes from 78 minutes.
After 20 months of construction, the 202-km high-speed railway linking Shanghai, China's economic hub, and Hangzhou, capital of east China's Zhejiang Province, extends the nation's in-service high-speed rail network to 7,431 kilometers.
Earlier last month, the Shanghai-Hangzhou high-speed line stunned the world when in a trial run, a train hit a speed of 416.6 kilometers per hour, a world train speed record.
"The operation of the Shanghai-Hangzhou high-speed rail line will help alleviate traffic pressure in the Yangtze River Delta region," Liu Zhijun, Minister of Railways, said at the line's inauguration ceremony.
"It will not only promote economic and personnel exchange but facilitate the integration of the Yangtze River Delta region as well," Liu said.
According to Ministry of Railways (MOR) forecasts, passengers are expected to make 3.05 billion trips in and out of the Yangtze River Delta in 2010, with the figure jumping to 5.5 billion in 2020.
A ticket price for the nine-stop trip between Shanghai and Hangzhou costs 156 yuan (23.4 U.S. dollars) for a first-class seat and 98 yuan (14.7 U.S. dollars) for a second-class seat.
China launched its first high-speed line - a service linking the capital and the port city of Tianjin - during the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Since then, more fast-train lines have been put into service: the Wuhan-Guangzhou line linking central and south China; the Zhengzhou-Xi'an line connecting central and western China; and the Shanghai-Nanjing line in the country's east.
China has an ambition to make its high speed rail network the world's longest.
According to the MOC, China will have a rail network of 110,000 km by 2012, with 13,000 km of it high-speed rail.
The highlight of China's high-speed rail network will be the 1,318-km Beijing-Shanghai line. Currently under construction, the 220.9 billion yuan (33.1 billion U.S. dollars) line is scheduled to open in 2012.
Once complete, train travel time between the country's two most important cities will be cut in half to less than five hours.