BEIJING: China on Friday launched a special bullet train service to speed athletes to Winter Olympics venues in a bubble separating them from the rest of the population. With the Beijing Games starting on February 4, international delegates, media personnel, and some athletes have already begun arriving. Boasting ski storage, some braille areas for Paralympic athletes, and a live television studio in one carriage for the state broadcaster, the trains will shuttle attendees at speeds of up to 350 kilometres per hour (217 miles per hour). “The layout of carriages is different from that in ordinary trains,” conductor Lu Pan of the China Railway Beijing Group told AFP. Multiple carriages are within a “closed loop” separated from the others by an empty isolation cabin, she said. There are also limited seats outside the sealed areas for regular commuters. China is sticking to a strict zero-COVID policy, to reduce any chance of the coronavirus spreading. The high-speed trains will ferry participants along a 174-kilometre track between venues in Beijing and Zhangjiakou — a resort city hosting several events. The designated services officially run from Friday to March 16, state media reported. One of the dozens of dedicated train services has a carriage repurposed into a studio, allowing state media to broadcast as it zooms through snowy landscapes — with help from hundreds of 5G base stations installed along the line. The line cost about 58.4 billion yuan ($9.2 billion) to build, according to The Beijing News, and started operations in 2019, cutting the usual travel time to Zhangjiakou from around three hours to around 50 minutes. Tensions are running high ahead of the Games, with local COVID-19 cases reported among the community in Beijing, and authorities cancelling plans to sell tickets to the public, allowing only invitees to view the action. Unlike last summer’s pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games, where for example media were able to leave the bubble after two weeks, nobody will be able to leave the “closed loop” during the games. From the moment people arrive at Beijing’s airport to the moment they leave they will be shuttled between venues, including on dedicated roads within the capital.