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.

China Pictorial (English) - - FRONT PAGE - Text by Zhou Xin

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.

High-tech Con­ve­nience

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.

Ded­i­cated Staff

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

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