News Feature: Bittersweet journey home


by Xinhua writers Zhu Guoliang, Guo Bensheng and Deng Huaning
BEIJING, Jan. 17 — For at least a week, Kong Li was hooked on the web for hours trying to get a train ticket to her home city of Xuzhou in east China’s Jiangsu Province before the Chinese lunar new year.
She became desperate.
“Online ticket sales begin at 8 a.m., and I always get ready in advance. But not a single ticket is available the moment that sales begin,” said Kong, a veteran fencer who coaches at a Beijing-based fencing club.
Kong bought a ticket to Shanghai instead. The train stops in Xuzhou, which is only three hours from Beijing. She paid 408 yuan for the ticket, nearly twice as much as the fare to Xuzhou.
“It’s worthwhile. If I don’t buy the ticket now, I might miss the annual family gathering with my parents.”
Kong considers herself lucky, having secured a seat on a comfortable, fast train home. Li Long, a graduate student at Qinghua University, however, has no idea whether he will get home to Harbin before the Chinese lunar new year.
The lunar new year falls on Jan. 31 and travelers are heading home before new year’s eve, an important occasion for family gatherings.
“Train tickets to Harbin are always scarce. I don’t even bother to check,” said Li. “Even air tickets are rarely available, if you don’t want to fly first-class.”
Kong and Li are among millions of Chinese who are migrating during the 40-day spring holiday travel rush which began on Thursday, a period that will witness an estimated 3.6 billion passenger trips by train, air, ship and buses.
About 257.8 million of the trips will be made by train, and on the busiest days, daily passenger transport is expected to top 10 million journeys.
“This still falls short of actual demand for railway services during the travel period,” said Professor Xu Guangjian of Beijing-based Renmin University. “Trains are still the most popular means of transport, but many passengers are forced to take planes or buses when there are not enough train tickets.”
Despite the rapid expansion of China’s railway network, which totaled 100,000 kilometers at the end of last year, including 10,000 km of high-speed rails that allow trains to travel at a maximum speed of 350 km per hour, a ticket remains the most sought-after commodity during the holiday season.
“But we cannot blindly increase transportation capacity merely to meet seasonal demand,” said Xu.
For those who are lucky enough to get a ticket, a train ride during this season is anything but pleasant.
Xinhua reporters followed a group of migrant workers on board a crowded, slow train from Nanjing, capital of east China’s Jiangsu Province, to Chengdu in the southwestern province of Sichuan, to witness their bittersweet, 26-hour journey home.
A LONG JOURNEY HOME
Song Antai, 28, got on the train in Nanjing at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday and headed for Sichuan.
The train carried 1,140 passengers when it left Nanjing. Song was among 200 passengers who had no seat – as demand for tickets far exceeded the train’s capacity, extra tickets were sold for the same price of 244 yuan, but with no seat. These ticket holders could only stand or crouch in the aisles or near toilets.
“I don’t mind having to stand all the way home,” he said. “When I’m tired, I can always find a corner to sit down or even doze off lying under the seats.”
When some of the passengers stretched their legs, he took the opportunity to sit down.
The crowded train was full of migrants from rural Sichuan who had secured temporary jobs at factories, construction sites and in service sectors in Jiangsu Province. Most of them had been away from home for almost a year.
A young couple traveling with their three-month-old baby boarded the train before they could secure a ticket with a seat. Fortunately, a man offered his seat to the baby and her mum.
“I don’t mind standing,” said Yu Ming, a native of Sichuan who had to stand all the way home after giving up his seat. “I feel lucky enough that I’ll be home with my wife and son tomorrow.”
After hundreds of passengers boarded along the way, the train became so crowded that it was difficult to walk down the aisle to the toilet.
Ma Zhanying, one of the train’s 40-member crew, received a cold welcome every time he pushed his vendor cart to sell drinks and snacks along the aisle. He said “excuse me” repeatedly, but some passengers sitting in the aisle refused to move and let him pass. “Just stop walking about and being a nuisance,” they would complain.
“But we have to deliver food and drinks to every train car, because it will be more chaotic if passengers have to go from one compartment to another in search of stuff,” said Ma.[db:内容2]