Spring Festival travel rush kicks off

The city's three railway stations sent away 342,000 passengers on the first day of the 40-day travel rush, 30,000 more than at the same time last year.
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station is packed with people on February 1, the first day of the 40-day Spring Festival travel rush.

With the K4085 train slowly departing Shanghai South Railway Station at 0:50am on February 1, the 40-day annual Spring Festival travel rush – or chunyun – had begun.

The city’s three major railway stations sent away 342,000 passengers on the first day of the travel rush, 30,000 more than at the same time last year, officials said. The average number of passengers leaving Shanghai from the three stations on a regular working day is about 200,000.

Over the 40 days, the city's railway system will send away over 13 million passengers, about 10 percent more than last year. The peak passenger flow will be on February 13, when around 498,000 passengers are expected to leave the city for their hometowns.

Zhang Zhonghai and Zhang Zhongjun from Xiushan Town in Chongqing managed to get two sleeper tickets for the K4085. The brothers, who work in a boat factory, were heading home earlier this year to celebrate their father's birthday. They were happy with the two tickets despite the fact they were taking their sons Zhang Junjie and Zhang Jie with them.

“We prepared two stools so that the kids can have the bed and we’ll just take a nap on the stools,” said Zhang Zhonghai.

The train crew stopped the family at the carriage door. “For a moment, I thought they are kicking us out of the train,” Zhang said. “But they allowed us to pay the excess fare.”

Ma Xiuhua was taking her son and nephews to go back to Guizhou Province, but she didn’t get a ticket directly home. “I bought tickets to Chongqing which is only two hours' drive from Guizhou,” said Ma. “We’ll figure something out after we arrive at Chongqing, hopefully.”

Chongqing, and Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces, all in southwest China, are the major destinations for passengers leaving Shanghai.

All three stations have arranged extra trains going in that direction. On the first day of the travel rush, 32 extra trains set off from the city carrying people home.

“All trains have heating systems and constant warm water,” said Wang Li, chief officer on duty at Shanghai South Railway Station. He said though there were only about 50,000 people taking trains in the station, they had tripled manpower to ensure the best service.

More than half the passengers leaving the city departed from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station.

Zhao Jiangwei, an officer who usually works at Shanghai West Railway Station, was delegated to Hongqiao to lead a 40-strong volunteer crew to provide extra help.

Most of the volunteers are from the city's universities. Gao Ruohan, a third-grade student from Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, was named leader of the crew. This is his fourth year as a railway station volunteer.

“Our job routine is to answer questions from passengers but it is not that easy,” said Gao. “People will have all kinds of questions for you.”

Gao and his classmates have made a manual with frequently asked questions and answers. He sent a digital copy of the manual to all volunteers.

Zhao said two young Dutchmen came to Hongqiao station on January 31 to ask for directions. “But their tickets were for a train leaving on February 2,” Zhao said. It turned out they were afraid staff would be too busy on the day they were due to leave and that no one would answer their questions.

“Apparently, they worried too much,” Gao laughed.

This year, the city has mobilized more than 1,500 volunteers at railway and coach bus stations as well as the city's two airports to help travelers.

Not all passengers are leaving the city. 

Qian Leiming boarded the K4668 train from northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to Shanghai, a 4,129-kilometer journey that will take almost three days.

"I do dried fruit business in Hotan Prefecture, and I go home every year to celebrate Lunar New year," Qian said. "Tickets to Shanghai are extremely difficult to get, but this year I got my ticket in advance online."

Huang Fang, a telephone operator for the 12306 train ticket booking hotline in Shanghai, said: "I usually take about 250 calls a day, but during chunyun the number can exceed 300.

"Requests from incoming calls vary a lot, from ticket booking to telling elderly people how to book tickets online, even to a husband looking for his wife," Huang said.

"My lips get dry every day I go home, so I always carry lip balm and medicine for soothing the throat," she said.

During the travel peak, all 162 telephone operators at the 12306 call center are on duty, said Dong Weixin, the center's director.

"It's a busy job," Huang said. "But I am glad to help people get home."

Shanghai Railway Station said the second day of chunyun is likely to see a significant growth in passenger numbers with 410,000 people expected to leave the city and 43 extra trains planned. 

Across the country, hundreds of millions of Chinese will be returning to their hometowns, putting huge pressure on the transport system.

About 2.98 billion trips are expected to be made between February 1 and March 12.

An additional 1,152 and 1,330 train services will be scheduled before and after the festival, respectively, on the basis of 3,819 operating trains every day, Li Wenxin, of the China Railway Corporation, told Xinhua news agency.

An additional 177 high-speed train services will be scheduled to operate each night, which will be able to carry 100,000 more passengers each day, he said.

Aviation authorities plan an additional 30,000 flights during the travel rush on the basis of about 14,500 flights every day, said Wang Zhiqing, deputy head of the Civil Aviation Administration.

In southwest China's Guizhou Province, many passengers are going home the high-speed way.

Wen Hua, 53, is a migrant worker from Guizhou's Tongzi County. Wen works at a construction site in the eastern seaboard of Fujian Province, more than 1,600km from home. Each year, going home would take almost 27 hours. But now, high-speed trains make his journey much easier.

"Now I can transfer via the high-speed trains in Guiyang, which greatly slashes my time to reach home," he said.

In the southern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, many migrant workers choose to go home by motorcycle.

Zhang Youjin, 38, is from Guangxi's Hezhou City. Zhang and his wife work in Guangdong Province with their child. On Thursday morning, they packed a bottle of hot water, four bottles of congee and other life necessities in two colorful bulging plastic bags, and hopped on a motorcycle to head home.

"It's freezing outside, but the journey is much cheaper," Zhang said.

 It's the fifth year that Zhang has ridden his motorcycle home. The journey is about 400km, and the family can reach home within a day.

According to official figures, each year more than 100,000 people ride motorcycles from Guangdong to Guangxi. 

Extra Metro trains

Shanghai Metro will run extra trains to handle the Spring Festival holiday crowd. From February 20 to March 12, Line 1, 2, 3 and 4 will run extra services from major transportation hubs — Shanghai South Railway Station on Line 1 and 3, Shanghai Railway Station on Line 1, 3 and 4, Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station on Line 2.

On February 20 and 21, Line 2 will do the same from Shanghai Pudong International Airport. The trains will only stop at Chuansha, Guanglan Road, Century Avenue and People’s Square stations, and will not take any passengers on the way. 

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