Monday, March 4, 2013

The Good and Bad of the Extended High-Speed Guanzhou-Zhuhai Intercity Railway

Last year in a post describing and showing how I traveled in China from Guangzhou to Macau (including photos of the immense Guangzhou South Station), I pointed out that the high-speed train from Guangzhou only traveled as far to a train station in northern Zhuhai. From there, a long ride in a taxi or a couple of buses were needed to reach the Gongbei Port at the Macau-Zhuhai border. During a later trip to Zhuhai, I posted photos of the under-construction Zhuhai Train Station at Gongbei Port which would provide a more convenient train station for Macau and central Zhuhai.

Those posts receive a regular amount of traffic, presumably in large part due to people seeking how to best travel between Guangzhou and Macau / Zhuhai. A reader's recent query motivated me to see if there were any updates. And indeed I discovered that the Zhuhai Train Station is now open and is a stop on the recently extended Guangzhou-Zhuhai Intercity Railway. January was the first full month of operation for the new extension and as reported in the Macau News:
The total length of the new line is 177 kilometres, of which 116 is between Guangzhou South station and Zhuhai.

There are in addition branch lines from Xiaolan station to Xinhui, 26 km, and from Zhuhai to Zhuhai airport. It will have a maximum speed of 200 km per hour.

It passes through the main cities of the southern Pearl River Delta, including Foshan, Shunde, Jiangmen and Zhongshan. It has a total of 27 stations. Passengers will have the choice of 46 minutes non-stop from the two termini or 76 minutes with stops at each station. The current journey time by bus is about 90 minutes from Gongbei to Panyu.

The line between Guangzhou South and Zhuhai North opened on January 7, 2011, with a journey time of 41 minutes. Guangzhou South is in Panyu, a suburb of the city. Passengers there can catch high-speed trains to Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Wuhan and Guizhou. To reach other parts of Guangzhou, they must take a subway.
For what it's worth, convenient and more direct ferries travel between Macau / Zhuhai and Hong Kong / Shenzhen. Also, the Macau News was a bit "optimistic" in its claim you could travel from Guangzhou to Guizhou by high-speed train. That line won't be in service until at least next year. And the high-speed line to Hong Kong won't be completed until 2015 (there is currently a slower high-speed line in operation from Guangzhou East Station).

It's also worth noting that the Guangzhou South Station is far from Guangzhou's central districts. For example, it took about 40 minutes on the metro for me to reach the station from where I last stayed in Guangzhou. From the airport it would take about 70 minutes (handy site for estimating Guangzhou metro travel times here). In either case, there are far closer places to catch a bus to Zhuhai. The travel time by bus between the two cities is about 1.5 - 2.5 hours. Where you're departing and arriving can make a big difference in times.

And there's another potential pain point for people who want to take the train. As noted in the Macau Daily Times, some are critical of the ticket prices:
...according to local media reports, many city residents complained that the tickets are set at unreasonably high prices [RMB90/70 (first/second class) for a single journey], which are over 50 percent higher than the prices before the Intercity was extended to the current stop at Gongbei. It was pointed out that at an average of RMB0.598 per kilometer, tickets of Guangzhou-Zhuhai Intercity Railway is even dearer than that of Guangzhou-Shenzhen Intercity Railway (RMB0.58/ km), and is the “most expensive Intercity Railway in the whole country”.

Coaches between Guangzhou and Zhuhai are operating at around RMB60-80 for a one-way ticket and some of the companies are cutting passenger fares to compete with the new Intercity link.
So it depends on your personal situation as to whether the rail line is a major plus and worth the cost. Despite all the potential drawbacks though, the extension certainly makes it more convenient to travel by train between Macau / Zhuhai and Guangzhou or cities further north such as Changsha and Wuhan.

My next wish would be for another extension connecting Guangzhou South Station, central Guangzhou, and the airport. I'm not aware of any plans for one though. I suppose even China has its limits for high-speed rail growth.

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