A new section of China’s high-speed railway opened on Tuesday to connect the eastern inland Chinese cities of Hefei and Bengbu.

The line connects with the Shanghai to Beijing high-speed line at Bengbu, essentially allowing high speed trains to run through from Hefei to the Chinese capital. The 130 km of the new line cuts the travel time between Hefei and Bengbu by about 1 hour and 30 minutes, so that it now takes just 30 minutes. This makes it possible to travel between Hefei and Beijing in under four hours, a journey which previously took around 10 hours.

Hefei, the capital of China’s Anhui province, has been identified by the Economist Intelligence Unit as one of the top 20 emerging cities in China. Its main industries include the automotive and engineering machinery sector, household appliances, chemicals and new building materials.

Since April 2009, Hefei has also been linked by high-speed rail with Wuhan (see a story on the city here) to the west, along with Nanjing and Shanghai to the east. By early next year, this east-to-west line is scheduled to stretch all the way west to Chengdu.

A high-speed rail line is also being developed between Hefei and the southeast coastal city of Fuzhou, set to be completed in 2014. This north-to-south route will almost halve the Beijing to Fuzhou journey time from 16 to nine hours.

Another line being developed will run along China’s south coast, from Shenzhen to Xiamen and then onwards to Fuzhou. The final testing and development of this route, originally scheduled for completion at the beginning of this year, has been delayed.

Click here for a map of the planned high-speed rail lines in China.

The high-speed train operating between Shanghai and Suzhou

Inside of one of the high-speed trains

Meanwhile, in the north of the country, test runs began last month on a high speed line between Harbin and Dalian that has been under construction for five years. The 921-kilometer line, nicknamed the “Ice Train”, is the only high-speed rail service specially designed for a frozen, high-altitude region. It reduces the journey time between the two cities by around nine hours, to four.

According to Xinhua, China is seeking to develop a grid of special passenger lines running east to west and north to south. It says China currently has more than 6,800 km of high-speed railway lines and the number will reach about 18,000 by 2015.

Nicholas Olczak