China tied the restive far-western region of Xinjiang closer to the rest of the country Friday, opening a high-speed rail line between its
capital Urumqi and Lanzhou, in neighbouring Gansu, nearly 1,800
A slick bullet train took off from Lanzhou West
Railway Station at 10:49 am (0249 GMT), with female attendants in Uighur
and other ethnic costumes serving 622 passengers, live footage on state
broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) showed.
The line, the
first high-speed railway in China’s remote and poor northwest,
stretches through the high-altitude Qilian mountain range, an ancient
section of the Great Wall and five strong wind zones, slashing travel
time between the two cities by half to less than 12 hours, CCTV said.
Another train left Urumqi for Lanzhou two minutes later, according to the report.
Xinjiang, a vast area bordering Central Asia, is home to Uighurs and
other mostly Muslim ethnic groups. It has long had a population of Han,
China’s dominant nationality, whose numbers have increased strongly over
the past half century through immigration.
Though rich in natural
resources such as oil and gas, the region has been the scene of ethnic
and religious unrest characterised by clashes between local groups and
authorities as well as violence both inside and outside the region that
Chinese authorities have classified as religious-inspired terrorism.
is engaged in a crackdown on militancy in the region and earlier this
month a court condemned eight people to death for two deadly attacks in
Urumqi, state media said, bringing the number of death penalties or
executions announced for Xinjiang-related violence to around 50 since
According to the state-run Xinhua news agency, the line
linking Gansu’s capital of Lanzhou to Urumqi is 1,777 kilometres (1,100
miles) long and its trains are designed to travel at a maximum speed of
250 kilometres an hour.
The line was one of several being opened
this month, including one that cut train travel times between the
commercial hubs of Shanghai and Guangzhou from 16 hours to seven.
of another high-speed line linking Beijing and Lanzhou in 2017 will cut
train travel times between the Chinese capital and Urumqi from 41 hours
previously to just 16, Xinhua said in a report last month.
has long had an extensive rail network but in recent years has
emphasised the development of super fast trains that have slashed travel
times between major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, and made rail
travel competitive with flying.
Only begun in 1999, China’s
high-speed rail network has quickly become the largest in the world,
with more than 11,000 kilometres of track in service during 2013, with
the total expected to reach 16,000 kilometres by 2020, according to
The high-speed network, however, has been plagued
by graft and safety scandals following its rapid expansion, with a
deadly collision in July 2011 killing more than three dozen people. The
accident triggered a flood of criticism of the government and
accusations that the authorities had compromised safety in its rush to