China's New Year rail travel: the need for speed?

Getting home for Chinese New Year used to mean squeezing into rundown trains that creak their way through the countryside.

But this year, many are opting for the comfort and ever-expanding network of China's high-speed trains, even if it means paying on average more than three times more - sparking concern the not-so-wealthy are losing out.

"High-speed trains do not benefit middle- and low-income segments of the population," Zhao Jian, a professor at the Economy Management Institute of Beijing Jiaotong University, told AFP.

"They might benefit rich people, giving them another travel option. But we build railways to promote economic development, not to serve one particular group of people."

China's high-speed rail network, already the world's largest, is expanding quickly. Railways minister Liu Zhijun said last month it would reach 13,000 kilometres (8,000 miles) this year, a more than 50 percent jump from 2010.

The sleek trains offer a respite from the cramped conditions often experienced by the tens of millions of people travelling for the Lunar New Year, China's most important holiday, which this year falls on Thursday.

The week-long holiday is sometimes the only occasion in the year for families to reunite. And at Beijing's main train station, many travellers said they would be happy to pay more if it meant getting home earlier.

"I got up at one this morning to get a ticket, and only got it at 10. I couldn't get a seat so I'll be standing 16 hours on the train to get home," Zuo Changming, who was headed to the northeastern city of Harbin, told AFP.

"I'd prefer a high-speed train as at least I'd get a seat, but those tickets sold out," said the 24-year-old, who works in the hospitality industry.

Wang Zhiguo, vice railways minister, told reporters on Sunday that so far, nearly 20 percent of all rail passengers had opted for high-speed trains during the travel period.

But some passengers, experts and even state media have expressed fears that the fast trains have left people with no option but to pay more out of their small salaries for tickets.

Liu Weidong, a migrant worker in the eastern city of Hangzhou, said he had had to pay an extra 400 yuan ($60) for his family to go home this year - one third of his monthly pay.

"To us, 400 yuan is a lot of money. With that money, we could have bought many things for the festival," he told the Xinhua news agency after failing to secure ordinary tickets home to the neighbouring province of Jiangxi.

Resentment has spread online, creating a popular buzz word - "bei gaotie" - meaning having to buy more expensive tickets because normal trains are no longer available.

"The railways ministry says problems during Chinese New Year arise because there is not enough transport capacity, adding that this (capacity) has clearly increased this year," one online user wrote on popular web portal sina.com.

"But unfortunately, they have only increased transport capacity with high-speed trains, which are too expensive for migrant workers, who now have to ride their motorbikes home."

Gerald Ollivier, senior infrastructure specialist at the World Bank in China, however says that high-speed railways could actually benefit poorer segments of the population.

"Part of the population has shifted from traditional trains to high-speed rail travel, which frees up the seats they would have used on traditional trains," he said.

"The high-speed rail essentially broadens the range of travel options available to the Chinese population. But the true test is whether these trains are full during peak times, and if that's the case, then it matches demand."

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Life and Style
life
News
Melissa and Joan Rivers together at an NBC event in May 2014
peopleDaughter Melissa thanks fans for 'outpouring of support'
Life and Style
tech
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone