China's 302mph train leaves the rest of the world behind

A sleek, grey-nosed, Chinese passenger train sped past green fields yesterday and into the record books, hitting a top speed of 302 miles per hour during a test run of the link between the capital, Beijing, and the financial centre, Shanghai, the latest sign of China's growing technological prowess.

The speed recorded by the CRH380A, or the "Harmony", is the fastest recorded by an unmodified commercial train and underlines China's drive to become a leading player in the high-speed rail business. "It not only marks a milestone in the construction of the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway, but also is a major achievement of China's technology innovation," said Wang Yongping, a spokesman for China's Ministry of Railways.

The track-laying was completed for the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail on 15 November, part of a country-wide network of high-speed trains. While some have dismissed the scheme as a vanity project and a waste of money, others believe the trains could ease pressure on China's airports and offer an environmentally friendly alternative to short-haul flights between the country's burgeoning cities.

The Beijing to Shanghai route has 24 stations and runs from Beijing's South railway station to a state-of-the-art facility beside Hongqiao airport in downtown Shanghai. The project costs £21bn and the high-speed link between Beijing and Shanghai is expected to double the capacity of the current line to 80 million passengers a year and halve travel time to five hours.

By 2013, China will have the world's most comprehensive high-speed railway network and 800 bullet trains. SO far, China has 4,706 miles of high-speed railway, more than any other country, and by 2020 it expects to have 75,000 miles of railway, of which 10,000 miles will be high-speed rail.

The Harmony broke its own record yesterday – previously it hit 260mph on the Shanghai to Hangzhou route on 28 September. Although that is the top speed for a conventional train, a specially modified French TGV train reached 357.2mph during a test in 2007 and a Japanese magnetically levitated train achieved a speed of 361mph four years earlier.

There is no limit to China's high-speed rail ambitions. Eventually the plan is to board the train in London and arrive in Beijing two days later, having passed through Germany, Kazakhstan and Xinjiang province.