Wed, February 23, 2011
China > Mainland > Spring Festival travel peak

Spring Festival travel rush tests China's railway system

2011-01-30 01:54:25 GMT2011-01-30 09:54:25(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

Passengers queue to board a train in a railway station in Ningbo, east China's Zhejiang Province, Jan. 24, 2011. Estimation by the National Development and Reform Commission showed that during the 40-day period of Spring Festival travel rush, about 2.85 billion passenger trips will be undertaken nationwide. (Xinhua/Huang Zongzhi)

BEIJING, Jan. 29 (Xinhua) -- A surge in passenger is testing China's railway capacity as millions head home ahead of the Spring Festival on Thursday.

China began its 40-day Spring Festival travel rush on Jan. 19. Some 2.85 billion passenger trips are expected to be made.

The Spring Festival, or Chinese Lunar New Year, is the most important Chinese holiday. It is a time for family reunions.

An average 2,265 train are transporting 6.2 million passengers daily, up 12.5 percent from last year.

Authorities have also stepped up the crackdown on tickets scalping, with police arresting 1,800 scalpers and confiscating over 14,000 train tickets.

"China's railway capacity has improved much over the years but it is still far from meeting the surge in passenger trips," Wang Yongping, a railways ministry spokesman said.

Trains tickets are hard to buy, Wang said.

Xu, a middle-aged man, bought a ticket at Beijing West Railway Station for his trip home to the southwest China province of Sichuan after queuing an entire day and a night.

"You'd better call it a fight rather than ticket-buying," he said.

Despite the hard "fight," Xu felt lucky because he did, in the end, get a ticket.

"Now I have to buy something to eat," he said while carefully tucking the ticket into his jacket's inner pocket.

Unable to get train tickets, over 100,000 migrant workers in southern Guangdong Province, a major manufacturing base, are going home by motorcycle.

The Spring Festival travel rush came into being in China in the late 1980s, when millions of farmers from inland China moved to coastal cities to work.

Over 800 million passenger trips were made in 1989, and the figure increased as China's economy grew.

China's rail construction has accelerated in recent years but has not keep up with demand, according to experts.

China's operating railways stretched for 91,000 kilometers by the end of 2010, said Zhu Lijia, a professor at the National School of Administration (NSA).

Besides, Zhu said, the newly-built railways are mainly high-speed lines linking major cities, not the ordinary railway lines that low-paid migrant workers to go home.

Instead of blaming passenger rail capacity shortages, Yin Xiaojian, a researcher with the Jiangxi Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, says government policy should ease the impact of passenger traffic.

Students' winter vacations could be started earlier, for example, Yin said, adding that the price of railway tickets before and after the travel rush could be lowered price change passenger flows.

Cai Jiming, a professor at Tsinghua University, said a system that gives paid annual leave to the nation's 200 million migrant workers should be introduced.

Moreover, experts believe China's current uneven distribution of industry adds to problem.

The country's labor-intensive factories are in major cities and China's coastal regions, and so the migrant workers from remote regions have to travel far, said Zhang Xiaode, an economics professor at NSA.

The experts hope China's ongoing efforts to shift some of its labor-intensive industries to the underdeveloped central and western regions will change that situation.

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