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Rail e-ticket sales get off-track

By Gao Changxin (China Daily)

10:49, January 03, 2012

Passengers line up to buy tickets at a railway station in Hefei, capital of Anhui province, on Sunday. The online ticket booking system was made to spare travelers the discomforts of buying tickets at stations during peak seasons, but it has been challenged by problems, including high demand. (Photo: China Daily)

People planning trips home for the upcoming Spring Festival, which begins on Jan 23, may have been pleased to learn of the railways' new online ticket booking, but excitement has turned to frustration as huge Web traffic paralyzes the system, which at times cannot issue tickets already paid for.

In Shanghai, a college student named Yang wrote in an online forum that he paid more than 200 yuan ($32) for a ticket, but the booking website failed to place his order. He tried a second time and was successful, but he had to pay again, and he will have to wait to get that extra money back.

At least a dozen posts on online forums detail experiences similar to Yang's. Many other posts said the railway's telephone ticket hotline is easier to use and more reliable.

Meanwhile, the crowds at train stations are growing. The number of people waiting to buy tickets at stations in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, has dramatically increased in recent days, according to Chinese media.

China Railway Customer Service Center told China Daily on Monday it is trying to solve the problems and will return any extra payments within 15 working days.

A China Daily reporter logged onto the booking website, www.12306.cn, on Monday afternoon and tried without success to buy a ticket.

The site was noticeably slower than before and responded "system busy" after an order was made for a ticket from Shanghai to Guangzhou. Later attempts got the same response.

"The problem is because the current online purchase policy requires buyers to pay for the tickets within 20 minutes of booking them. If the website gets the payment any later, the ticket is put back with the unsold tickets to be sold again," the Ministry of Railways said on Monday.

Fan Yingshu, director of the transportation department of the Beijing Railway Bureau, said at a press conference on Friday that problems between banks and payment platforms caused the delay in payments.

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