Shanghai Railway Station's impressive 30-year journey

Shanghai's "New Passenger Station" may be getting old, it is celebrating its 30th birthday, but it still handles millions of travelers every year.
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Shanghai Railway Station now

Ti Gong / Ti Gong

Shanghai New Passenger Station in 1987, now known as Shanghai Railway Station. 

The New Year vacation brought an impressive flow of passengers through Shanghai Railway Station with the three-day break offering a great opportunity to go on short train trips.

Some 399,000 passengers left Shanghai via the city’s three train stations on Saturday, with Shanghai Railway Station alone accounting for about 114,000 travelers.

The station was celebrating its 30th year on December 28. “Its name was Shanghai New Passenger Train Station,” said Zhang Lianxi, former chief of the station. He described the holiday rush as “a rehearsal for the Spring Festival exodus.” Of the station, he added: “It certainly has changed a lot.”

It was called the “new” station to distinguish it at the time from the existing station, which closed in 1987 and is now Shanghai Railway Museum.

“Many young lads don’t even know that name,” Zhang said. The old Shanghai Railway Station had been built in 1909.

With Shanghai’s urban expansion, the old railway station lacked the capacity to accommodate an increasing number of passengers.

The largest station hall was 400 square meters, but at the time more than 50,000 people were passing through the station every day.

When the last brick was laid at the New Passenger Railway Station, it soon drew attention nationwide as it was the first modern train station in China.

Ti Gong

A waiting room at Shanghai Railway Station in the 1980s.

Wang Hongge went to Harbin in north China’s Heilongjiang Province in the 1960s as one of the educated youths sent to support the countryside. She later moved to Beijing and made her home there, but from the early 80s she would return to Shanghai twice a year to visit friends and family.

“I remember the first time I saw the station,” said Wang. “The brown shaded glass curtain wall reflecting the sunshine seemed surreal to me at that time.”

Wang recalled at the time that a ticket to Beijing cost 32 yuan (US$5), a third of her monthly salary. The trip would take 26 hours.

“But now with the high-speed train, I can get to Beijing within 6 hours,” Wang said.

Wang said she would not be spending the next Spring Festival in Shanghai as her husband was not well in Beijing.

“I will come back early to see my friends,” said Wang, who has already bought a high-speed train ticket for January 13.

After the Shanghai-Beijing High-Speed Railway came into service in 2011, Wang did not go to Shanghai Railway Station anymore for the high-speed trains terminate at Hongqiao Railway Station.

Just as today Hongqiao Railway Station features cutting-edge technologies in facilitating more travelers, Shanghai Railway Station was also ahead of its time.

“It had 18 elevators. All 16 station halls had installed air-conditioning which at that time was inconceivable,” Zhang said. At the time, he was director of the ticket office.

Unlike the current ticketing system, in 1987 a train ticket was simply a piece of card. All the information was hand written by the ticket sellers.

Being a ticket seller at that time was a tough job, with over 18 million people taking trains at the station in 1987.

This year, the city’s three stations — Shanghai Railway Station, Shanghai South Railway Station and Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station — sent off more than 100 million people, five times more than 30 years ago.

“More than 50 percent of travelers in the city choose the railway system,” said Zou Jun, who has been a ticket seller for 15 years and is retiring soon. Her last shift will be New Year’s Eve in 2018.

Zou was hired when the New Passenger Station opened and has been working in the ticket office since 2002.

From 2003 to 2010, Zou was assigned to sell tickets for the Spring Festival exodus in a stadium in Putuo District which the sellers called “big mall” as the stadium would be packed with people.

“Every day we went to the stadium at 6am and went home after 8pm,” said Zou. “Sometimes we worked overnight.”

The railway system at the time opened 200 windows for tickets for the Spring Festival exodus, but people still had to line up for a long time to get one.

“I sold more than 3,700 tickets a night in 2007,” said Zou. “Even if we had computers to help us issue the tickets, it was still exhausting.”

Zou’s sales set a record for tickets sold in one shift.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Zou Jun selling train tickets to travelers at the ticket window in Shanghai Railway Station.

Thanks to 12306.com, that record may never be broken. The website and the app enables travelers to buy tickets online. More than 100 ticket windows have now closed, instead of which there more than 260 ticket vending machines in the three stations.

Zou said that her 30 years had flown by. “Now the city’s railway system is still bearing a heavy responsibility, though Shanghai Railway Station is not as crowded as it once was.”

Passengers departing from Shanghai Railway Station saw a significant reduction from 32.51 million in 2010 to 24.55 million in 2011 and the number keeps dropping.

The New Passenger Train Station has become old, but it still incorporates the spirit of a generation of railway workers.

A new railway station near Pudong International Airport will come into service in the next five years. By which time a more intelligent and advanced railway network will take the rail system of the city another new step forward.

Ti Gong

The ticket counter for foreigners in the 1980s.

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