Fenghuang in Hunan province has become the first county-level area in the country to open a magnetic levitation, or maglev, railway line.
The county, whose name means "phoenix" in Chinese, is administered by the Xiangxi Tujia and Miao autonomous prefecture, and is famous for its well-preserved ancient town, Miao and Tujia cultural heritage, and architecture from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.
The 9.1-kilometer maglev line, which has a designed maximum speed of 100 km/h, makes four stops and will predominantly be used as a link connecting the high-speed railway station with the ancient town and nearby scenic areas.
At a cost of 2.37 billion yuan ($353.5 million) and taking two years to build, the maglev is expected to add to Fenghuang's tourism credentials by offering visitors convenient, quiet, low cost and environmentally friendly transportation.
Tickets are available for 58 yuan and can be used an unlimited number of times during a four-day period.
Maglev trains are quiet and consume a relatively small amount of energy, which is good for the environment in scenic areas, said a county government official.
"Taking a maglev train is more like a tourist experience," said Wang Lianghua, general manager of the Hunan Maglev Group Corp, the line's builder.
Tunnels on the line have been fitted with audiovisual shows to entertain travelers between the scenic spots. Fenghuang's Lansheng station has been built to resemble the eyes of a phoenix and features a three-story sightseeing platform overlooking the old town and the Tuojiang River. A scenic elevator from the station takes passengers directly down to walkways along the river.
The design and construction of the maglev line involved a number of innovations on the part of the Hunan Maglev Group, Wang said.
For example, the pillars built to support it have been designed in the shape of petals, "so the pillars have become a part of the scenery themselves", he said.
"Five years ago when there were no high-speed or maglev trains, I had to take a slow train from Changsha, the provincial capital, which took hours just to reach Jishou city where I would then take a bus to reach Fenghuang," said Li Ziqiang, a tourist from Guangzhou who was visiting the county for the second time.
"It's convenient and comfortable to take a high-speed train and the maglev to Fenghuang ancient town, and we enjoyed beautiful views from this higher position. It was a very good experience," he said.
The county's tourism sector is recovering slowly after the impact of sporadic outbreaks of COVID-19 during the first half of the year, said Yang Changhai, head of Fenghuang's culture and tourism bureau.
"More than 30,000 tourists visit Fenghuang old town every day," said Yang.