Returning home, an annual ritual for most Chinese people before Spring Festival, has become a torturous test of will and persistence for many, China Daily reporters
Zhao Lei and Cao Yin find out.
"No matter how difficult getting a ticket is, I have to buy one and return home," Liu Xiaodan, 26, who comes from Changde, Hunan province, and works in a karaoke club in Beijing,
said at BeijingWest Railway Station on Jan 23.
"I came to Beijing when I was 17 and began working in a restaurant," she recalled. "I worked there for more than three years, and my salary helped my parents pay my little
brother's tuition afterhe was admitted to a distinguished university in Shanghai. I can only see my brother once or at most twice a year, especially since he graduated from
the university and landed a job in Shanghai. So Spring Festival is a big occasion for me to be with my parents and my brother," Liu said, adding she would spare no efforts
to get a train ticket back home. "Last year, I bought two tickets, for me and my boyfriend. I know it is wrong to go to scalpers, but people like me never have any other choice,"
she sighed. "Before Spring Festival in 2009, I stood in line for nearly five hours on three consecutive days to get a ticket."
She succeeded, but she came down with a fever that she caught waiting in the cold.
"Of course, flying home is much easier and more convenient, but we migrant workers can't afford it. And most of us girls wouldn't consider taking a long-distance
bus home out of safety concerns."
In addition to waiting in line at train station ticket offices, Liu said she had asked her boyfriend and colleagues to help check the website for booking train tickets to see
if any were available.
"One of my friends said he has reserved a standing-room ticket for me. I came to the train station to see if there were any hard-seat tickets left. After all, standing
for more than 20 hours in a train
car is no laughing matter."
Fortunately, she did not need to wait in line for hours this year because "most people now use the ticket website or hotline to reserve tickets and then pick them up at
railway stations or ticketagencies".
The Ministry of Railways ticket booking website, 12306.cn, handled about 200,000 users per second on its busiest days before Spring Festival, recording as many
as 1.5 billion hits each day,according to the ministry.
3.4 billion trips
Chinese tradition holds that people should return home and spend Spring Festival, the most important Chinese holiday, with their families, which creates an annual
travel rush that is the world's largest recurrent human migration.
Chinese travelers made nearly 2.9 billion trips during the 2012 travel peak. More than 235 million of those trips were by train — meaning nearly 6 million people took
trains each day of the travel rush.
A record 3.4 billion trips are expected during this year's 40-day holiday rush, from Jan 26 to March 6.
Of these, 3.1 billion trips will be made in private cars or buses, averaging 77.4 million per day, 9 percent more than last year, according to a Ministry of Transport forecast.
About 43 million trips will be made by ships during the period, a 1.5-percent year-on-year increase.
Transportation departments around the country will allocate 840,000 buses and 13,000 passenger ships for the travel peak.
Compared with last year's travel peak, this year will see more short or medium-distance journeys on the roads and a larger movement of migrant workers. The number of trips made by rural
residents will surge, according to He Jianzhong, a Ministry of Transport spokesman.
The Ministry of Railways expects 220 million train trips to be made during the peak period this year, averaging 5.6 million a day.
To handle the flood of rail passengers during the Spring Festival travel peak, authorities will temporarily schedule 900 extra train trips a day, increasing the total number of daily trips to 5,134,
said Wei Ruiming, a Ministry of Railways official in charge of operations.
Wei said 621 comparatively low-speed trains without air-conditioning would run each day during the travel peak for passengers such as migrant workers who cannot afford bullet train tickets.
Extra trains from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong province, where large numbers of these migrant workers are employed, were prepared to take them back to Sichuan province, Chongqing
and other regions.
The traditional strain on lines linking cities that attract these workers in the northeast and south has been alleviated with the launch of new high-speed lines.
The Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed rail line, the world's longest high-speed rail link, which became fully operational on Dec 26, has become a hot choice for many traveling home, helping
relieve the huge burdens on old lines.
Before the travel peak began, tickets for the new line were easier to get than other lines, because of their high prices — a first-class seat costs 1,383 yuan ($221), which is more expensive
than an economy-class air ticket, and a second-class cabin seat costs 865 yuan.
Still, almost every ticket for the line's the railway operated before Spring Festival were booked by the end of January, according to 12306.cn.
Return tickets to Beijing and other big cities along the Beijing-Guangzhou line for Feb 16 and 17, when the Spring Festival holiday ends, were sold out on the website because most employers
reopen on these days.
Railway authorities have also taken into consideration the needs of passengers with special conditions.
The Zhengzhou Railway Bureau in Henan province has made a series of favorable measures for people with disabilities, including reserving a certain number of seats and sleepers in each car.
The bureau dispatches ticket-selling vehicles to areas with large concentrations of migrant workers and remote, rural areas to help people there buy tickets.
Airports in China will also see their busiest-ever traffic during this year's travel peak.
Nearly 8.8 million trips will be made through the Beijing Capital International Airport, averaging 220,000 each day, a 4.86 percent year-on-year increase, according to airport authority.
Airport workers with tablet computers and printers have been sent to help passengers check in. The practice is proving successful in saving travelers' time and reducing pressure on counters,
the airport said.
Travelers to regions that produce many migrant workers and tourist hot spots have more options during the 40-day peak period.
Air China has pledged to add 2,578 flights to major Chinese destinations during the travel peak, and China Southern Airline plans to add more than 5,400 flights.