This article is a travel topic
Bring your passport
New regulations are in force as of 2011. Foreigners must present their passport to purchase train tickets. Chinese citizens need to present their ID cards, passports or other travel documents.
China has a high-speed passenger rail network, similar to French TGV or Japanese Shinkansen “bullet trains” but far larger. There are thousands of kilometres of lines in a national high-speed passenger network. It is expected to grow to more than 20,000 km by 2020.
These are easily the best way of getting around China where available. The trains are clean, comfortable and modern. Seating is comparable to that in an airplane. Most tickets are for assigned seats; no-seat tickets are sometimes sold in limited numbers, but unlike regular Chinese trains, there is never a mad crush with more people sitting in the aisles than in seats. Also unlike other trains, no smoking is allowed, including toilet and between carriages. Prices are reasonable and, on most routes, departures are frequent.
The fast trains are called CRH, China Railway High-speed. At some train stations there is a separate CRH ticket office or even vending machines; at others, CRH tickets are sold at separate counters in the main ticket office. In either case, just look for the “CRH” signs or logo. Note that non-Chinese can no longer use the vending machines; you must go to a counter so they can check your passport.
The speeds attained vary considerably from line to line. The technology used also varies. Nearly all the rolling stock is now manufactured in China, with much of the technology comes from abroad. The Canadian company Bombardier, Japanese Kawasaki, German Siemens and European Alstom have been involved.
See China#Get_around for more general information on rail travel in China.
Types of train and services
The letter prefixes on train numbers indicate the type of train. From fastest to slowest, the fast trains are:
- G: latest generation CRH, all with top speeds of 300+ km/h (G is for 高鉄）
- C: intercity high-speed rail. Top speed 300 km/h. Only found on the Beijing–Tianjin–Tanggu line.
- D: earlier generation CRH, with top speeds of 250 km/h (155 mph) （动车）
The slower trains (not high-speed train) are:
- Z or T: intermediate-speed non-CRH trains. Some of these get up to 160 km/h (100 mph) ，Z means 直通 direct with very few stops at start of journey. T is 特炔 special fast.
- K or no letter: slower, cheaper and more crowded trains. K is 快 meaning fast and is the most common train, definetely faster than no letter train which stops at every station.
On most short trip trains, there are just two classes of seats, first class and second class. Both classes are comfortable, though first has noticeably wider seats. Some trains also have a limited number of VIP sightseeing class or private seat cabins. Some long-distance runs have sleeper cabins. Sleeper cabins come in two classes: (1) hard sleeper (three layers of bunk beds), with no doors between the beds and the corridor for privacy or (2) soft sleeper (two layers of bunk beds), with an enclosed room for every four beds.
Taking the fastest train is not always the best way to travel between cities. For example, between Beijing and Xi'an, it might be better to take the overnight T or Z train instead of travelling 6-7 hours on the D train. You save one night hotel bill and one day travelling time.
The price difference for the classes is not enormous. For the Fuzhou-Shanghai D train (six hours and well over 1000 km), for example, second class is 282 and first 330-odd. There is a K train for only 130, but it takes 17 hours on a less direct route and is very crowded. Unless your budget is extremely tight or you cannot cope with six hours in a non-smoking train, the fast train is hugely preferable, easily worth the cost difference.
Some trains have a dining car and nearly all have attendants selling drinks and snacks from carts which they roll up the aisles. Many stations have vendors on the platforms as well. All these tend to be relatively expensive, though, so it is worthwhile bringing your own food and drink.
Ticket purchase and travel
You will need your passport to purchase a ticket and at most stations, be required to show your ticket and passport before entering the waiting area.
Generally you have several options to purchase train tickets.
- Purchase through the official online ticketing website, 12306.cn. However, the website is only available in Chinese and accepts Chinese credit or debit card as payment method only. This option is not available to most of the foreign visitors. However, if you happen to be an expat living in China with a Chinese bank account, or you can have a Chinese friend to buy the ticket for you using this method, be sure to go to the train station in advance, as you will need to go to a staffed ticket counter to pick up your ticket and the line could be long. You will have to go to a staffed ticket counter and NOT be able to use the automated ticket vending machine as it only works with Chinese ID Card and cannot read foreign passport.
- Purchase through an online travel agent (OTA). They may charge for commission fee but could arrange ticket delivery to your hotel or any local addresses. List of reputable OTAs with English website are provided in the link.
- Purchase through local travel agent in town. A very small amount of commission fee may be charged (around 5 to 10 RMB, which is no more than 2 US Dollars). Look for the sign of "火车票" or ask your hotel or hostel for information. In general, staffs there speak no English. Use this bilingual form to communicate.
- Purchase at the station. No commission is charged, but tickets may be sold out. ONLY buy your ticket on the day of departure if you are traveling along the route with frequent service (e.g. Guangzhou - Shenzhen, Shanghai - Nanjing, Beijing - Tianjin). OTHERWISE, buy at the station in advance of departure. ALL station can sell tickets for any other stations in China. In major stations like Beijing or Shanghai, you will sometimes find a English-speaking window, but don't expect to find it every station. Use this bilingual form to help communication.
Lines in service
As of late 2010, the following lines are in service:
- Beijing - Tianjin – Tanggu, China's first 300+ km/h class line, opened in 2008 just before the Beijing Olympics
- Beijing South to Tianjin, 117 km in 30 minutes (non-stop) or 35 minutes (stop in Wuqing), 1st class ¥66 and 2nd class ¥55
- Beijing South to Tanggu in seaside (where you can board a ferry at the Xingang Port to Japan, Korea and other destinations), 51–52 minutes (non-stop) or 54–56 minutes (stop in Tianjin), 1st class ¥84 and 2nd class ¥70
- Beijing–Tianjin–Jinan–Xuzhou–Nanjing–Shanghai, 300 km/h line opened June 2011
- Beijing – Jinan – Qingdao
- Wuhan - Changsha - Guangzhou, once China's flagship high-speed rail line, world’s fastest commercial train service in term of average speed
- 350 km/h G-series train line opened in December 2009, 968 km in slightly over 3 hours, 1st class ¥780 and 2nd class ¥490. The line, like all other lines in China, has been slowed down to 300 km/h, but there're discussions to restore the 350 km/h speed in the next few months.
- Xi'an - Zhengzhou, via Luoyang(Longmen) and other smaller stations
- 350 km/h G-series train line opened February 2010. 457 km in 2 hours. 1st class ¥390 and 2nd class ¥240
- Shanghai - Suzhou - Wuxi - Changzhou - Zhenjiang - Nanjing. Shanghai to Nanjing is the busiest stretch of railway on Earth
- The D train from the main Shanghai station to Nanjing was one of the first CRH lines and is still in service. It takes a bit over two hours.
- A new G train line opened in July 2010, running from the new Hongqiao Station in Shanghai, right next to the airport and on subway Line 2. Shanghai-Nanjing time is now 73 minutes for non-stop service; some trains also make intermediate stops.
- An even newer line is under construction and will cut the travel time to just under one hour, due in late 2011.
- Shanghai – Zhengzhou, Shanghai – Qingdao.
- Shanghai – Hangzhou – Nanchang – Changsha, some trains traverse two lines connecting Hangzhou and Nanjing.
- Shanghai – Hangzhou – Ningbo – Wenzhou – Fuzhou. around 6 hours (+/- 20 minutes depending on stops), ¥282, Fuzhou to Shanghai South station.
- A new G-series train line opened in October 2010, non-stop service between Shanghai Hongqiao and Hangzhou is 45 minutes.
- Shanghai - Nanjing - Hefei - Wuhan
- 250 km/h line opened in April 2008 (Hefei–Nanjing section) and April 2009 (Hefei–Wuhan section)
- Beijing - Shijiazhuang - Taiyuan
- Shijiazhuang–Taiyuan section: 250 km/h line opened in April 2009
- Beijing – Qinhuangdao – Shenyang – Changchun – Harbin
- Shenyang - Tianjin - Xuzhou - Nanjing - Shanghai.
- Beijing - Shijiazhuang - Zhengzhou - Wuhan
- Changsha - Nanchang
- Nanchang - Jiujiang
- Opened September 2010, 135 km in 45 minutes, up to 220 (CRH1) or 250 (CRH2) km/h
- Xi'an - Baoji
- Chengdu – Dujiangyan – Qingchengshan
- Opened on May 12, 2010, up to 220 km/h
- Guangzhou – Shenzhen (at the border with Hong Kong).
- Haikou–Sanya, opened in December 2010, 250 km/h, one of the station is just beside Haikou's Milan Airpor* t
- Beijing/Shanghai–Chengdu/Chongqing, opened early 2011, sleeper CRH on upgraded old railway, around 16 hours
- Changchun–Jilin, 250 km/h, early 2011
- Guangzhou–Zhuhai, opened January 2011
- Guangzhou–Shenzhen, new 350-km/h line
Lots of high-speed lines are still under construction, expect new lines to open every a month or two in the next few years. Lines expected to start service in 2011 include:
- Harbin–Shenyang–Dalian, 350 km/h, to open by the end of 2012
- Beijing–Shijiazhuang–Zhengzhou–Wuhan, 350 km/h, to open by the end of 2012, part of the HSR corridor from Beijing to Guangzhou (2012) and onward to Hong Kong (2014)
- Futian (Shenzhen) to West Kowloon (Hong Kong) (2014)
- Xiamen–Shenzhen, delayed, expect 2014/5 operational.
- Lanzhou to Urumqi
- and others
When all is complete, Beijing–Shanghai (1305 km) travel time will be cut to under five hours, Beijing–Hong Kong (2250 km) to eight, and Beijing–Ürümqi (3450 km) to twelve.
Even faster — Maglev
Shanghai has a magnetic levitation train out to Pudong airport. Top speed is around 431 km/h (268 mph) during daytime but restricted to 300 km/h (186 mph) in early morning or after 5p.m.
A maglev line between Shanghai and Hangzhou has been planned, but put on hold by the government, due to the populace's fear of radiation.
As the CRH network comes online, many existing lines are becoming freight-only lines so China's overall freight capacity is being improved as well.
Partly because of competition from the fast trains, some of the Chinese domestic airlines are reducing prices, so there are now quite a few bargain flights. See discount airlines in Asia for some possibilities.
China is trying to sell this technology to other nations; they are negotiating with several countries in Latin America to build a network there. They are also negotiating to extend their network across Asia, with high-speed links all the way to Moscow, Singapore, and New Delhi via Burma. This is a slow process; as of mid-2011, only the link to Vientiane is confirmed. See this news coverage.