People returning home for Spring Festival can expect lengthy delays at train stations after the introduction of a new ID-based ticket booking system.
The Ministry of Railways announced that passengers would have to show their ID card or other recognized identity document when buying a train ticket at 37 railway stations in Guangdong, Sichuan, Hunan and Guizhou provinces.
The system will be effective between Jan 30 and Feb 13.
Spring Festival, or the Lunar Chinese New Year holiday, starts on Feb 14. Scalpers have traditionally used this holiday to stockpile tickets and sell them at much higher prices.
The stations covered by the new system and managed by Guangzhou Railway Group include seven in Guangdong and 19 in the neighboring Hunan.
The Guangzhou Railway Group said the new system would greatly increase the difficulty in organizing transport and become a challenge to Spring Festival railway transport.
Travelers are urged to use the latest version of their ID card to speed up the checking process.
Passengers can book tickets 10 days before the travel date. A person buying tickets for other people needs to present those people's ID cards and can buy no more than three tickets at a time.
The ministry said that enterprises buying tickets in groups for their employees would need to provide detailed personal ID information.
The scheme would not apply to high-end train services, including high-speed trains between Guangzhou and Wuhan.
China has long been troubled by serious train service shortage during the Spring Festival period, when hundreds of millions of people travel by train for family reunions and vacations.
The National Development and Reform Commission has predicted the nation's railway network will carry 210 million people during the 40-day peak, a rise of 9.5 percent on last year.
More than 18.5 million migrant workers in Guangdong returned home for Spring Festival last year and only 7.4 million tickets were sold before the first day of the 2009 Lunar New Year.
About 3 million tickets were sold at the railway station windows and the rest were booked in student and migrant worker groups and via a telephone booking system.
During the 2009 Spring Festival, Guangzhou railway police cracked a large-scale scalping operation and discovered 60,000 forged tickets.
There have been calls for a system that includes the name of the ticket holder on the ticket.
Railway station workers, ticket agents and police are preparing for bigger crowds resulting from the new ID-based scheme because extra time will be needed to check identification.
Guangzhou railway station carries more than 200,000 people on a Spring Festival peak day.
The Guangzhou Railway Group, which manages 4,869 km of railway in provinces of Guangdong, Hunan and Hainan, transported 23 million people during the 2009 Spring Festival season, or about 583,000 a day, including 15 million departing from Guangdong.
Chen Jin, a student of the Guangdong Justice Police Vocational College, said: "Only after the trial system is implemented, can we say whether it is good or not. It is too early to draw a conclusion now."
Chen is from Guangdong's Zhanjiang City.
Other passengers also proposed the railway authorities open more channels for booking tickets, such as telephone booking and online booking.