The train left Beijing, with patches of snow dotting the capital, at 9 am on Wednesday before it whizzed past green rice fields when it crossed the Yangtze River four hours later. At 5 pm, it arrived in flower-dotted, subtropical Guangzhou, where the temperature was 20 C higher than in Beijing when the trip began.
The world's longest high-speed rail link, connecting Beijing and Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, became fully operational on Wednesday.
The 2,298-km line cuts the journey time from more than 20 hours to around eight and connects 28 cities, including five provincial capitals.
The designated speed of the route is 350 km/h, although the initial operating speed is around 300 km/h.
Fifteen minutes after the bullet train departed from Beijing West Railway Station, the speedometer hit 300 km/h and the speed was maintained for almost the entire journey, the exception being the section between Xuchang in Henan province and Hengdian in Hubei province, because of heavy snow.
The CRH380A(L) train, which is in service on the new line, has undergone extensive tests around the country, so its reliability is assured, said Wu Donghua, a senior engineer at CSR Sifang Co, one of China's biggest manufacturers of bullet trains.
The train's internal temperature was maintained at a comfortable level, with a low of 18 C.
The train is equipped with special washrooms for the disabled and can serve four different types of cuisine.
Zhang Wei, an electrical engineer from Cangzhou in Hebei province, left home at night and traveled three hours by coach so he could "have the unforgettable experience of being on the first train on the line".
He was impressed with the facilities and service, but not with the price. His first-class seat cost 1,383 yuan ($221), more expensive than an economy-class air ticket. Seats in the second-class cabin cost 865 yuan.
The new rail line has lured quite a number of passengers from airline companies.
Yang Zengyu, a businessman in the construction sector who boarded the train at Zhengzhou, said he prefers taking the train to Guangzhou than flying.
"A journey on the train is more pleasant. The price is fine. Also, the rail network has expanded so quickly that the trains go everywhere. Even for frequent flyers like me, railways are an attractive alternative," he said. "It would be even better if we could access the Internet on the train."
Lu Zemin, from Renqiu in Hebei, took a train to Beijing at 6 am to travel on the new line. "It used to take me 33 hours to travel on the train from Beijing to Guangzhou in the 1980s. During those 33 hours in a shabby, congested car, I had to crawl under the seat to sleep when I was really tired," he said.
"The journey time was cut to 22 hours several years ago. Now I can enjoy a nice nap and when I wake up I will be in Guangzhou."
One passenger, a retired woman who preferred not to be named, said she often took the train between Beijing and Zhengzhou to visit her mother.
"I've witnessed the designations of trains evolve from K to D, and now we have G, which means the speeds are increasing all the time," she said.
In China's rail system, a "K" designation indicates that the train bearing it runs at an ordinary speed. "D" means a train can travel faster than 200 km/h and "G" trains surpass 300 km/h, said an official with the Ministry of Railways
"The trains and stations are very advanced, featuring cutting-edge technology and passenger-centered equipment. And thanks to the Internet, buying a ticket is also much more convenient than before," she said.
Wang Hui, deputy dean of Shijiazhuang Tiedao University's School of Economics and Management said the train signals a new era.
"The Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed railway connects the economic area around Beijing with the Pearl River Delta.
"Considering the population and levels of development of the two economic zones, they are undoubtedly important engines for China's economy, therefore improving the transport system will definitely increase exchanges between the two in terms of investment, talent and information."
Tian Xuebin, an economic researcher at Hebei University of Economics and Business, said the new link will advance the economic integration of cities along the line, help optimize their industries and bring more opportunities.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Railways has retained cheaper, but slower, train services on the old Beijing-Guangzhou line for those who can't afford the comparatively expensive tickets on the new line.
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