High-speed Spring Festival Rush
As China’s high-speed railway network continues expanding and increasing numbers of bullet trains begin operation, miserable journeys home for Spring Festival have become a relic of the past for many people.
When Spring Festival (New Year on the lunar calendar) draws near, Chinese people across the country all seem to be thinking about one thing: going home. One of the most important traditional festivals in China, Spring Festival is the time for Chinese families to reunite after a year of work or study in places away from home. However, though the moment they meet their families again may be joyful, travel among the huge crowds of people has always been far less desirable.
According to China Railway Corporation, operator of China’s massive railway system, the organization made special adjustments for this year’s Spring Festival travel rush, from February 1 to March 12. It was estimated that China’s railway system would handle as many as 390 million passengers during this year’s Spring Festival travel season, a year-onyear increase of 31.31 million, and trains in China would carry 9.55 million people every day on average.
Before high-speed rails began connecting the whole nation, the dominant method of travel for Chinese people was traditional trains which were not only slow, but also extremely crowded during the travel rush.
The past five years have brought
stunning changes everywhere in China. The development of the high-speed rail is one of the greatest contributors. As China’s highspeed railway network continues expanding and increasing numbers of bullet trains begin operation, more and more people can get home faster than before. Miserable journeys home for Spring Festival have become a relic of the past for many people.
China now boasts high-speed rails of over 25,000 kilometers, accounting for 66.3 percent of the total high-speed rails worldwide. This year will see 57.5 percent of passengers during the travel rush take bullet trains, an increase of 4.8 percent. Among routes opened specially for the travel rush, 43 percent feature bullet trains. More and more cities are now accessible by high-speed trains.
Thanks to new cutting-edge technologies, several new strategies have been employed in railway stations to save passengers’ time and make trips more convenient. For instance, facial recognition devices were installed at the Beijing South Railway Station to check ID cards and tickets quickly, which can verify whether the passenger matches his or her ID card and ticket in only two seconds.
Other thoughtful services have been introduced as well. For example, because the Beijing South Railway Station is so huge and difficult to navigate, the Wechat account for the station features a virtual guide to the interior. On the official Wechat account of the Beijing South Railway Station, a real-time navigation service was launched to help passengers better get around the station, find the right platform and prepare for boarding.
Furthermore, on-train food delivery is now rated as one of the most-loved features of high-speed trains. Passengers can order meals through China’s official
train ticket booking website 12306.cn or its mobile app and pay with apps such as Alipay or Wechat Pay. They can order before setting off or even while on the train. The meals are prepared by restaurants at stations where the train stops. When the train arrives at the station, the meal is loaded onto the train and delivered to the passenger by a railway staffer.
Not surprisingly, railway employees are the busiest during the Spring Festival travel rush. This year’s Spring Festival fell on February 16. When the day for family reunions arrived, they spent it on trains while most Chinese people ate dumplings and watched the Spring Festival Gala on television with their families. And preparations for the travel rush started long before the festival.
On February 1, 2018, the G4907 high-
speed train made its first trip during the Spring Festival travel season. The G4907, which ran in 2016 for the first time, is only offered during the Spring Festival travel rush. According to the schedule, the train will cease operations on March 12 this year. This bullet train sets off from Beijing to Anqing, Anhui Province, covering more than 1,000 kilometers. The train is operated and managed by staff of only a dozen workers.
Moreover, the G4907 is a shuttle train that goes back to Beijing in the afternoon of the same day, and arrives at the capital city just past midnight the next day. Train staff must work over 18 hours straight.
Yan Tao, chief conductor of this train, has been working on trains since 2006 when he finished military service. He recalls bittersweet
memories of celebrating Spring Festival on the train. On the eve of the Lunar New Year, when most Chinese people are already home, he and his colleagues would be left on an almost empty train. “It’s fairly boring to work on an empty train,” he admits. “But the train still runs as usual to deliver the passengers we do have. There are always some passengers.”
When the eve of Spring Festival arrived, the staff made dumplings right on the train. “We didn’t have a rolling pin, so we used a beer bottle,” grins Yan. “We created the atmosphere of the festival by making dumplings ourselves.”
Zhang Guiqin performs janitorial services on the train. The 48-year-old, like her colleagues, also continues working straight through the holiday, sweeping every corner and collecting trash from every seat of the three carriages she maintains. The hard-working cleaner seldom returns home during Spring Festivals.
Surprisingly, she looks forward to shifts during the festival because the extra holiday pay means her February paycheck will be almost doubled. She enjoys the work and notes that her colleagues can hardly believe that she is almost fifty years old.
Fast and Comfortable Trip Home
Bitter wind and heavy snow highlighted an unusually cold winter in southern China this year. The weather didn’t deter the high- speed train as it dashed through the white world towards the South. Passengers aboard leaned back on their soft seats, enjoying the comparatively short trip in a warm, spacious carriage.
Ms. Li used to ride the coach home during the Spring Festival holiday. The high-speed train has saved her considerable misery. “I got serious carsickness on the coach and felt extremely uncomfortable,” Li cringes when describing the past. “Every trip, I vomited on the way home. On the high-speed train, I don’t get carsickness anymore.”
“Once I couldn’t even get onto the train because it was so packed with people,” said Xu Guozhu. “My friends lifted me up so I could crawl in through the window.” Xu is an interior decorator residing in Beijing who heads home to Tongling County, Anhui Province each year for Spring Festival. He had a particularly chaotic experience during his first trip during the travel rush. “The aisle was so packed with people that I didn’t have anywhere to stand, let alone sit. Finally, I had to sit on a table between two rows of benches. Some people were even laying beneath the bench or up on the luggage rack.” The year was 2000, and unfortunately his trip then took nearly 24 hours.
A decade ago, the trip still took 16 hours. In stark contrast, the bullet train now cuts the trip to only six hours. “High-speed trains make travel more convenient and comfortable and cut travel time drastically,” Xu beamed.
Mr. Zhang, an interior decorator working in Beijing, goes home with his two daughters on the G4907 high-speed train. by Xu Xun
Attendents celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year with passengers on the G89 train heading from Beijing to Chengdu. by Chen Jian
A couple of parents, together with their six-month-old twin daughters, wait for the high-speed train heading for their home in Anhui Province. by Xu Xun
Ms. Chen, who runs a business and resides in Beijing, travels to her hometown in Fujian Province with her husband and twin daughters on the first day of the Spring Festival travel rush. by Dong Fang
Mr. Lin, 70, goes home to Jiangxi Province with his wife. They look after their grandson in Beijing. by Dong Fang
High-speed trains at the depot in Beijing. by Wan Quan
Meals board the high-speed train. Direct-to-seat food delivery is now rated as one of the favorite features of highspeed trains. by Duan Wei
A passenger searches for information with the help of a robot at the Tianjin West Railway Station. by Dong Fang