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Home >> China Travel Tips >> Train


Although crowded, trains are the best way to get around in reasonable speed and comfort. The network covers every province except Tibet, but engineers are working on that last mountainous bastion. There is an estimated 52,000kin of railway lines in China, most of which was built after 1949.

The safety record of the train system is good. The new fleet of trains is also a vast improvement on the old models - they are much cleaner and are equipped with air-con. Many train stations require that luggage be x-rayed before entering the waiting area. Just about all train stations have left-luggage rooms where you can safely dump your bags for about £¤2 to £¤4.

Most trains have dining cars where you can find passable food. Railway staff also regularly walk by with pushcarts offering instant noodles, bread, boxed rice lunches, ham, beer, mineral water and soft drinks. After about 8pm, when meals are over, you can probably wander back into the dining car. The staff may want to get rid of you, but if you just sit down and have a beer it may be OK.


Chinese trains differ from those in other countries as the seating is not separated into first and second class areas. In China, the accommodation on the trains is divided into four categories, namely, soft-sleeper, soft-seat, hard-sleeper and hard-seat.

  1. Hard Seat

    Except on the trains that serve some of the branch or more obscure lines, hard seat is in fact padded, but you'll get little sleep on the upright seats. Since hard seat is the cheapest rail option, it's usually packed to the gills, the lights stay on all night, passengers spit on the floor, you can carve the smoke in the air and the carriage speakers endlessly drone news, weather, good tidings and music. Hard seat on tourist, express trains or newer trains is more pleasant, less crowded and there could be air-con.

    Hard seat is OK for a day trip, but beyond that the enjoyment of your journey will be dependent on your comfort threshold.

  2. Hard Sleeper

    These are comfortable and only a fixed number of people are allowed in the sleeper carriage. The carriage has doorless compartments with six bunks in three tiers. Sheets, pillows and blankets are provided. There is a small price difference between berths, with the lowest bunk the most expensive and the top-most bunk the cheapest. You may wish to take the middle bunk as all and sundry invade the lower berth to use it as a seat during the day, while the top one has little headroom and puts you near the speakers (tall passengers may prefer the top bunk as the beds are short and passengers in the aisle bash into their overhanging feet). When you buy your ticket you will be asked which level you want, and this will be on your ticket. Lights and speakers in hard sleeper go out at around 9.30pm to 10pm. Competition for hard sleepers has become keen in recent years, and you'll be lucky to get one on short notice.

  3. Soft Seat

    The seats are comfortable and overcrowding is not permitted. Smoking is prohibited, but if you want to smoke you can do so by going out into the corridor between cars. Soft seat costs about the same as hard sleeper.

  4. Soft Sleeper Soft sleeper is luxurious travel, with four comfortable bunks in a closed compartment, wood panelling, potted plants, lace curtains, teacups, clean washrooms, carpets and air-con. Soft sleeper costs twice as much as hard sleeper, and sometimes as much as flying.

Train Types

Different types of trains are usually recognizable by the train number. All trains beginning with the letter 'T' are 'special express' trains. They have all classes and there is a surcharge for speed and superior facilities. This class of train is the quickest, most luxurious and most ex- pensive. With a few exceptions, the inter- national trains are included in this group. All trains beginning with the letter 'K' are 'fast speed' trains. Train numbers starting with the letter 'Y' are tourist trains. All other train numbers not beginning with a T, K or Y are normal speed trains. Sleepers can be found on all long-distance trains.

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