Public irate about VIP train seats

08:13, December 30, 2010      

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This undated photo shows the dcor of a luxury carriage on the high-speed railway linking Shanghai and Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Sichuan province. (Provided to China Daily)

Many are demanding the removal of expensive VIP train seats after it was revealed the cost of a new first-class service between Shanghai and Sichuan's provincial capital Chengdu will exceed that of airfare between the cities.

The first-class service between the two cities is scheduled to be available on Jan 11. The priciest tickets will cost 2,330 yuan ($352) apiece, which is more than an economy-class plane ticket between the cities. The cheapest ticket will cost 501 yuan.

VIP passengers can enjoy "first-class facilities", including a small meeting room and individual audio-visual systems attached to every berth, the Oriental Morning Post reported.

"It's unreasonable to put such a luxury train service into operation before the busy Chinese New Year travel season, when many people can't even get a single ticket home," the Shanghai-based newspaper quoted local residents as saying.

Shanghai Railway Bureau spokesman Tao Liping told China Daily the purpose of the luxury carriage is to satisfy varied market needs.

"Only 16 of the train's 618 seats are first-class," Tao said.

The others are 480 soft berths and 122 soft seats, which show "a reasonable distribution", Tao said.

But many do not accept the bureau's explanation.

An economy-class flight from Shanghai to Chengdu costs about 1,500 yuan and takes three hours, while the train takes 15 hours.

Shanghai University sociologist Gu Jun said he fails to see the necessity of a "five-star train".

"I don't think the Orient Express is needed when we already have convenient air transport," Gu said.

"Business travelers are unlikely to spend 15 hours on the train when a three-hour flight is available."

Sun Zhang, a professor at Tongji University's School of Traffic and Transportation Engineering, said such arrangements represented a serious mismatch between market supply and demand.

"We have a vast number of people, especially migrant workers, who cannot find a single ticket to get home before the Spring Festival," he said.

"Yet the bureau is offering overpriced luxury train tickets."

Tao, from the Shanghai Railway Bureau, said: "As part of the public transportation system, it's impossible for us to set aside ordinary people's needs."

The bureau runs many additional trains among Sichuan, Hunan and Henen provinces before and after Spring Festival, he said.

"We created the first-class option on this high-speed train without taking away from any other trains. It's just another option for business travelers," he said.

Similar luxury trains began operating between Shanghai and Beijing two years ago, with the most expensive tickets costing 1,470 yuan.

But the Shanghai railway bureau will cancel the first-class option on one of the three trains traveling between the two cities on Jan 5 because of a lack of buyers, local media reported.

Only four of the 98 first-class tickets available on the route for Wednesday and Thursday combined had been sold, a local newspaper reported.

By Shi Yingying, China Daily
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