Faster Chinese trains running at about 200 kph (124 mph) began service Wednesday as part of a bid to keep up with ballooning transport demand, state media reported.
The first of scores of high-speed trains left Shanghai at 5:38 a.m. (2138 GMT) Wednesday morning for the nearby city of Suzhou, covering the 85 kilometers (53 miles) in about 39 minutes, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
The speed upgrade is the sixth in history on China's railways, which provide a vital, low-cost transit link between the scattered regions of the vast nation of 1.3 billion people.
On some routes top speeds will climb to up to 250 kph (155 mph), cutting travel time between Shanghai and Beijing by two hours to as little as nine hours. Travel time will fall by seven hours on the trip between Guangzhou and the central city of Chongqing, originally a 38-hour trip.
Along with the new trains, China is upgrading its tracks to allow for faster speeds and expanding its network. Last year saw the opening of a 1,140-kilometer (710-mile) line to Tibet's capital that crosses mountain passes more than 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) high.
Xinhua cited railway officials as saying Chinese trains carried a quarter of the world's railway freight and passengers last year, despite the country having just 6 percent of the global total of railways by length.
China has 67,500 kilometers (42,000 miles) of railway lines compared to 212,400 kilometers (132,000 miles) for the United States.
With land availability growing ever-tighter, especially in the heavily populated Yangtze river delta region around Shanghai, increasing speeds is seen as the best way of boosting capacity.
Xinhua quoted Vice Railways Minister Hu Yadong as saying the speed increase would raise passenger capacity by more than 18 percent and freight capacity by more than 12 percent.