Sunday, November 1, 2009

Beijing to Shanghai

by Vladimir Pariev

I made my trip on Chinese trains in the Spring of 2009. The building of the main train station in Beijing is large, grey coloured in a monumentalistic Soviet style of architecture. There is a spacious square near the railway station. It is not far from the city centre. Metro exit is located on the other side of the square from the railway station. There is also quite good and not expensive hotel across the square from the railway station. Despite the large spaces the main feature of big railway stations in China are crowds of people. Especiallyso the Beijing station, since it is in the capitol of China and many train lines go in all directions from Beijing.

I was on the trip together with my friend. Another Chinese friend bought us train tickets in advance. In China a passenger would need a ticket to enter the train station. Tickets themselves are bought in another building close by. There is a temporary storage room for the luggage, where one can keep bags for a small fee. After entering the station a passenger is supposed to wait for his train in a waiting hall. There are many waiting halls according to the categories of the trains. We took the overnight Z train to Nanjing. The waiting hall for Z trains has many seats, so we got a seating for our wait. Other halls for lower class trains has too few seating places, so they were crowded with thousands of people standing or sitting on the floor. There are many shops inside the railway station selling snacks and drinks.

About half an hour before train departure time, passengers are asked to proceed to the platform. Tickets are checked once again. Z trains have compartments with four soft sleeping berths each, two berths below and two berths above. Sheets, pillows, pillow cases, blankets,
towels are included. There is also hot water and a clean toilet in the train. Some light food is sold on the board the train. The train went from Beijing to Nanjing without making any
stops for 9 hours journey. Despite quite high speed (more than 120 km per hour) the train was pulled by a Diesel locomotive, which I saw at the head of the train.
In the morning we arrived at Nanjing station, which is also quite large. We needed to show our tickets at the exit from the railway station again. There is a separate exit door from the platforms,which leads directly to the street. Once having passed through this door, a passenger cannot reenter the station without having another ticket for another train. It is not possible just to stay for a while inside the station without intending to actually board a train. We took express D train to Shanghai. The train was electric, fast, going at the speed up to 250 kilometres per hour, but making five stops, and it took us about two hours to get to Shanghai.

Shanghai railway station is also large and more modern than the station in Beijing. It is crowded too and it uses the same system of tickets purchasing and waiting rooms as in Beijing. In front of the railway station there is a road busy with traffic, but people criss cross at all times. The exit from the metro station is located on the other side of this road. The building for selling tickets is in about 200 metres from the railway station building and there are some other buildings and a road in between. So, it is not easy to guess quickly, without reading Chinese, where they sell the train tickets. There are a number of hotels close to the station
and we stayed in one of them, which was quite good. We took another Z train from Shanghai back to Beijing. The train took 11 hours of non-stop travel in the night. The train had the same interior as the Z train from Beijing to Nanjing, clean and quite comfortable.

As a side note, all our neighbours inside the compartment (all together4 people on both Z train trips) were males. I do not know, if it isdue to rules for selling tickets, or whether some females initiallyhad tickets in our compartment but then exchange their berths with males from another compartment,or if it has happened by chance (with probability 1/16). This is different from Russian trains, where males and females are usually assigned sleeping places at random, in any compartments.

Purchasing train tickets in China is somewhat difficult to do in advance. The tickets are sold not earlier than 10 days before thedeparture of the train, except for Z trains, when the tickets can be purchased 20 days before the travel date. It is easy to buy tickets while in China, either at a ticket office close to a railway station or in some travel agency. As my Chinese friend told me, it is wise to buy a ticket 2-3 days before the long distance trip in usual times and one needs to reserve tickets 10 days in advance during peak travel times in China, like the Spring festival. Suburban tickets are always available right before departure, if a passenger is willing to stand in the train. If one wants to buy tickets before coming to China, the Internet travel agencies charge high fees for this. Fees amount to 50 per cent of the cost of the fare itself. I could not find any cheap English language travel agencies, which would sell train tickets in advance to me and resorted to asking Chinese friends in China to get the tickets.

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