High-speed rail broadens range of options for China's New Year travel

15:26, February 04, 2011      

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For most Chinese travelers, the journey home for Spring Festival, China's Lunar New Year holiday, is a cramped ordeal on a rundown train that creaks its way through the countryside.

However, this year many are opting for a faster and more comfortable trip on one of the country's high-speed trains.

Chen Liqun, an engineer working in Chongqing city, left his hometown of Wuxi, in east China's Jiangsu Province, four years ago.

With no direct train services, the trip home used to take 33 hours, and cost 116 yuan (18 U.S. dollars) for a hard seat ticket and 201 yuan for a soft seat. "I have to change trains, so it is difficult to buy tickets. And the 33-hour trip was a torture."

But the opening of a high-speed rail link between Chongqing and Shanghai at the beginning of last year cut Chen's trip to 14 hours. However, Chen was still one of the lucky few who managed to get their desired tickets.

"Of course, I could fly, but that would cost 1,400 yuan. A soft seat on the high-speed train only costs 473 yuan," Chen says.

High-speed trains offer a respite from the discomfort experienced by tens of millions of people traveling home for the Lunar New Year, China's most important holiday, which fell on Thursday this year.

The week-long Spring Festival is the only occasion in the year that many families can get together.

Wang Zhiguo, Vice Railways Minister, said Sunday that about 1 million people, almost 20 percent of the average daily rail passengers, had opted for high-speed trains during this year's holiday travel period from Jan.19 to Feb. 27.

China's high-speed rail network, the world's largest, is expanding quickly. By January last year, it totaled 8,358 kilometers, according to the Ministry of Railways.

Railways Minister Liu Zhijun said last month the mileage would reach 13,000 kilometers by next year.

China's Spring Festival travel season evolved as one of the world's largest annual migrations in the late 1980s, when millions of farmers from inland areas moved to coastal cities to work.

China's rail construction has accelerated in recent years, but still lags behind demand, say experts.

Source: Xinhua
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