The slow train lifeline in Xinjiang

(Xinhua) 10:35, May 28, 2022

URUMQI, May 27 (Xinhua) -- Every day, a slow green train chugs along the southern edge of China's largest desert, the Taklamakan.

The train line connects Hotan Prefecture, in the south of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in northwest China, with the regional capital Urumqi. Little more than a decade ago, Hotan was not connected to the national train network, but that all changed in June 2011, when the Hotan-Urumqi line opened.

Though famed for having the longest high-speed railway network in the world, 81 slow train services still operate across China. These trains are lifelines for many rural communities and transport some 12 million people annually--and affordably, as tickets cost no more than 0.06 yuan (0.89 U.S. cents) per km.

Porarhan has been a train captain on the Hotan-Urumqi line for nine years. Being fluent in Mandarin, Uygur, and Kazakh, he can communicate with the majority of his passengers that get on and off along the 66-stop, 1,960-km route, which takes around 32 hours.

People take the train to travel, visit relatives, attend schools or find jobs in cities, Porarhan said.

The fares are very affordable as the service is non-profit. The 500-km journey from Hotan to Kashgar costs just 53 yuan, and the cheapest ticket between stops is only 5 yuan.

The train stops at every station, even if they only have one or two passengers. "It makes traveling in remote areas so much more convenient," Porarhan said.

The route is not the only thing about this train that makes it unique. If passengers have mobility issues or need assistance getting on and off, ribbons are tied to their berths so that the crew can help them and contact their arrival stations in advance.

The train also encourages producers of farm products or handicrafts to board and sell their wares, transforming the train into a "mobile bazaar."

In 2021 alone, sellers hawked goods worth 240,000 yuan, according to the local railway authorities.

Ablimit Yasin is a mobile bazaar regular. He often takes the train from Hotan to Kashgar to sell his homemade naan to passengers. His personal sales record is over 200 pieces of naan on one trip.

"Ablimit Yasin used to put the money he earned into a purse. Last year, I saw that he had replaced that old purse with a new smartphone so now he can accept mobile payments, too," said Porarhan.

The success of the mobile bazaar inspired Mayhan Semat, a young member of the crew, to take the bazaar online, and last year, a mini-program on Wechat was launched, which offers farmers a new marketplace, and a wider customer base to sell their products.

Over the years, passengers have left messages in a notebook on the train, "I wish the slow train gets better with each passing day," one note reads. Their journeys may be distant memories but, as the slow green train continues chugging along, their reflections live on.

(Web editor: Wu Chaolan, Bianji)


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