We've built it, now we must make them come

I suspect that quite a few Chinese rail passengers have received the recent news of the firing of the railway minister with some glee. While the last few years' projects to connect most of the country's major cities with a high-speed rail network are very impressive, they have at least one downside: it is often reported that with the introduction of the new high-speed service, "regular" services on a parallel "regular" are greatly reduced, and passengers in effect are forced to take more expensive high-speed trains. From what I have seen, this certainly is the case with the new Shanghai–Nanjing Intercity High-Speed Railway, commonly known as Huning Gaotie. The new fast line, opened in 2010, parallels the existing "conventional" Shanghai-Nanjing railway, and soon will be paralleled by the even faster Beijing–Shanghai High-Speed Railway. It seems that with the opening of the Huning Gaotie, it became practically impossible to travel in the Shanghai-Nanjing corridor on any of the less expensive "older" services: either the regular K/T/no-letter trains, or the fast D trains (which themselves were introduced only a few years ago). It appears that hardly any D trains from Shanghai terminate in Nanjing anymore; and even though D trains running from Shanghai via Nanjing to points beyond (such as Hefei or Wuhan or Beijing) may often have some spare capacity on the Shanghai-to-Nanjing sections, ticket office won't sell such tickets, and will tell customers to buy a ticket on a (more expensive) G train running on the new line. Same goes for K etc. trains. The difference between the Y146 Shanghai-Nanjing ticket for a G train, and a Y80-90 D train ticket, or a Y50 K-train ticket may be trivial to an upper-middle class professional or a foreign tourist. But for someone who earns Y1000-1500 a month (seems to be a typical wage level e.g. in the service sector) it may mean the difference between being able to afford to visit one's family every weekend or only once a month. Of course, G trains are about 1.5 times as fast as the D train, and 3-4 times as fast as "regular" trains; for the entire Shanghai-Beijing trip, this is 1 h 15 m to 2 h vs. 2-3 hours vs. 4-6 hours. However, for traveling shorter distance (say, Nanjing to Zhenjiang) the time saving is fairly trivial, compared to the overall time cost of buying the ticket, navigating the (huge) train stations, and waiting for the train.

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