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Fast train, big dam show China's engineering might

China rolled out its fastest train yet on Tuesday and announced that the Three Gorges Dam, the world's biggest hydroelectric project, is now generating electricity at maximum capacity — engineering triumphs that signal the nation's growing ambitions as its economy booms.
The successes demonstrate how, after decades of acquiring technology from the west, Beijing has begun to push the limits of its new capabilities, setting the bar higher on mega-projects as it seeks to promote the image of a powerful, modern China. But many of these initiatives have come at great human and environmental cost, and some have questioned whether the country fosters a sufficiently innovative spirit to compete on the next level.
Still in the works: more nuclear power plants, a gargantuan project to pump river water from the fertile south to the arid north, and a $32.5 billion, 820-mile (1,300-kilometer) Beijing-to-Shanghai high-speed railway that is scheduled to open in 2012.
"We are now much faster," Railway Ministry spokesman Wang Yongping said at Tuesday's inauguration of the super-fast line from Shanghai's western suburb of Hongqiao to the resort city of Hangzhou. "Now other countries are hoping to cooperate with us."
The train will cruise at a top speed of 220 mph (350 kph), making the 125-mile (200-kilometer) trip in 45 minutes.
China already has the world's longest high-speed rail network and aims to more than double its length to 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) by 2020.
And despite the obvious benefits high-speed railways bring, the replacement of slower lines with more expensive high-speed trains has prompted complaints from passengers reluctant to pay higher fares, especially on shorter routes.

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