High speed rail from Hong Kong to China to tempt business travellers

By Bloomberg News, September 18 2018

China's sprawling bullet train network will extend to Hong Kong on September 23, providing a direct connection to 44 mainland destinations.

With the addition of services from Guangzhou and Shenzhen – the major cities closest to Hong Kong – what’s now a daylong train trip to Beijing would be cut to nine hours.

China’s high-speed rail network is easily the world's largest, stretching for 25,000km, and is a strong competitor for airlines in a market where congested airspace and limited landing slots mean regular flight delays.

The Express Rail Link (XRL) train will connect Hong Kong and mainland China.
The Express Rail Link (XRL) train will connect Hong Kong and mainland China.

Since China’s first bullet-train service connected Beijing to the nearby port city of Tianjin a decade ago, Chinese airlines have steadily lost customers, especially for journeys shorter than 800km – roughly the distance from Hong Kong to Changsha, the capital of Mao Zedong’s home province of Hunan.

“The fact that passengers will get off the train in downtown Hong Kong rather than at the airport on an island and then have to take another train ride to the city will prompt many to choose trains,” said Yu Zhanfu, a partner at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants in Beijing.

The departure hall area of the Express Rail Link.
The departure hall area of the Express Rail Link.

There's also a wider commercial benefit at play, Yu explains.

“The high-speed rail strengthens the economic ties between mainland China and Hong Kong. For a lot of Chinese cities, this is a big breakthrough because it is the first time they have a direct link with Hong Kong, the most important hub in southern China.”

Train vs plane

A bullet-train ride can cost less than half the price of a ticket on Cathay to the 11 overlapping destinations, with the biggest savings for routes of less than 800km. Passengers would also save time on pre-boarding security checks required for flights and travel to and from airports.

With 11 of Cathay Pacific’s more than 20 China destinations overlapping with high-speed rail, the Hong Kong marquee carrier stands to be the biggest casualty, especially on flights of less than three hours.

Cathay Pacific didn’t respond to requests for comment on competition from the new rail link.

For many passengers, the train’s wider seats, increased legroom and freedom to move around translate to greater comfort.

Inside the Express Rail Link (XRL) train.
Inside the Express Rail Link (XRL) train.

Rail also has an advantage for a city where the typhoon season can play havoc with flight schedules. When Typhoon Mangkhut plowed through the city over the weekend, more than 1,400 flights had to be canceled across the region, according to Flight Aware.

Joyce Leung, a Shanghai-based marketing professional, is willing to give the new high-speed connection from Hong Kong a try, after experiencing first-hand how trains can be a lifesaver when torrential rains led to multiple flight delays during a recent work trip to Beijing.

“I won’t hesitate to book the bullet train during the rainy season,” said Leung before the storm. “While a plane ride is still faster for travelling from Hong Kong to Shanghai, the train is a more predictable choice compared to massive flight delays.”

How high-speed rail changes the transport power balance

Airlines have focused on longer domestic routes where flying has a clear advantage in time, often reducing or canceling services that compete directly with bullet trains.

Last December, the start of high-speed train services between western China’s Chengdu and Xi’an led carriers to cut daily flights between the two cities to about three from several dozens before.

As well as the air advantage over longer distances, planes and trains continue to compete on popular routes such as Beijing-Shanghai, and flights maintain an advantage to cities not connected directly by a high-speed rail service.

Cathay Pacific and its regional airline Cathay Dragon, which flies most of the group’s mainland routes as well as to to nearby destinations such as Japan and Southeast Asia, may have to modify their networks as the group works toward a profit this year after two straight annual losses.

Airlines have the advantage of loyalty from customers who collect frequent flyer miles, but even that may not be a big incentive, according to Ivan Zhou, an analyst with BOC International Holdings in Hong Kong.

“You could possibly get more miles by paying your restaurant bills with a credit card than by flying short haul,” Zhou said.

Also read: When the train beats the plane

Flying High

Flying High

13 Feb 2015

Total posts 38

Bullet trains were unaffected by the typhoon?

JBL

JBL

01 Jun 2016

Total posts 60

Bullet trains are not running here yet. Meant to start on the 23rd

sgb

sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

How fast do these trains go?

airADL

airADL

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Mar 2014

Total posts 205

300 kms per hour

And they are always on time

I will be using these trains

Too many delays on flights in China

elchriss0

elchriss0

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

13 Jan 2015

Total posts 581

so do you reckon their ability to run to schedule is as good as the shinkansen?

airADL

airADL

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Mar 2014

Total posts 205

All I can say on 200 plus trips not left late once, to the minute.

Unlike the airline trips that consistently leave late.

NigelH

NigelH

30 Oct 2017

Total posts 4

Yes on time, but have broken down once... for 20 mins between Beijing and Shanghai when racing colleagues who took the plane. On that occasion I was last to the hotel, but not by much!

Eli

Eli

30 Jul 2015

Total posts 90

Yeah, thats a tough one to beat!! :-)

Ryan K

Ryan K

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 May 2013

Total posts 303

I literally just got off the high speed train between Shanghai and Nanjing - an hour ago. It left and arrived on the minute.

Traveller14

Traveller14

17 Sep 2015

Total posts 391

350kmh on some lines if I recall. Since inception, there has been one major mainland Chinese rail accident, but safety overall is very good, although not unblemished like Japan, where Shinkansens in about 53 years have never had an on board fatality.

Fast trains are twice as popular in mainland China as the airlines.

elchriss0

elchriss0

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

13 Jan 2015

Total posts 581

I think it's now up to 54 years

TheBigM

TheBigM

07 Mar 2017

Total posts 32

Only problem is buying a ticket isn't easy for international travellers. But for locals, who are the main intended users, it's straightforward.

The trains themselves are very nice, and reliable. Though security and boarding procedures are more in line with airports, rather than usual train access.

airADL

airADL

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Mar 2014

Total posts 205

I never have issues getting tickets online for the trains

NigelH

NigelH

30 Oct 2017

Total posts 4

Agree online works well. Train business class is very cosseted.

airADL

airADL

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Mar 2014

Total posts 205

Agreeed we did a few business class cabins and the very small cabin was odd.

Traveller14

Traveller14

17 Sep 2015

Total posts 391

Use C-trip or other sites.

gumshoe

gumshoe

04 Nov 2012

Total posts 216

Wish they had a fast track in Shenzhen entry for Business passengers rather than the 30/45min for Visa. Don't see any mention of train luggage or security thereof for night stay if required.

johnaboxall

johnaboxall

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 735

Get yourself a multi-entry visa.

KK

KK

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Dec 2012

Total posts 104

The visa is checked in HK before onboard the train, same as Eurostar in Paris.

gumshoe

gumshoe

04 Nov 2012

Total posts 216

I thought had to get Visa in Shenzhen on arrival?.

stewart7000

stewart7000

08 Sep 2018

Total posts 3

A 5-day visa can be bought at the border crossing into China from HK. Way cheaper and quicker than being screwed over by the Chinese mob in Canberra. The local HK rail from Chinese border was out after the typhoon. Power cables down.

airADL

airADL

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Mar 2014

Total posts 205

No you can get Visa here in Oz prior to travelling or in HK.

You can get a 5day Shenzhen visa at Lo Wu not via this train.

Will be interesting if they do same for Guangzho. Would make sense.

jch

jch

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

15 Nov 2017

Total posts 53

Only time I've been slightly late on the HSR was when it was snowing most of the way from Beijing to Shanghai. When is Australia building one from Brisbane to Melbourne!

Traveller14

Traveller14

17 Sep 2015

Total posts 391

It'd be popular, especially for SYD - BNE or SYD - MEL trips, plus all the cities in between.

Steve Napier

Steve Napier

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Mar 2017

Total posts 13

But having multiple stops means the service can’t maintain high speed.

The Qld Rail Tilt Train is a prime example, where it takes 4 1/2 hrs from Brisbane to Bundaberg with 5 stops.

Traveller14

Traveller14

17 Sep 2015

Total posts 391

Wrong, because the usual pattern overseas is to have a mix of expresses and stopping all stations trains. The expresses overtake the stoppers at major (and some minor) stations.

And the gaps between stations on any Australian high speed rail lines will be a lot greater than the Tilt Train or Spirit of Queensland on the Brisbane - Cairns route.

pointyendmark

pointyendmark

Qatar Airways

06 Jul 2016

Total posts 40

I did Shanghai to Beijing in 'business class' last month. Excellent way to travel. Highest speed shown on the carriage displays was 353kmh.

Every seat on the 16 car train was occupied - so book in advance. Onboard wi-fi hard to access because instructions are only in Mandarin.


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