BEIJING, Jan. 3 (Xinhua) -- For many Chinese who want
to nab railway tickets home for the annual Spring Festival migration, the
government's promise of having a better system by 2012 is just a distant hope.
Starting Friday, the first day to book tickets for
the travel rush expected to last from Jan. 11 to Feb. 28, long queues appeared
at ticket booths in almost every major railway hub.
In Wuhan, college students were first hit by the
rush, as many schools' winter break starts from Jan. 10 to 17.
As more than 70 percent of the 1 million resident
students there were expected to go home by train, local railway authorities have
set up ticket agents on campus, opened more ticket booths for students at
stations and offered special trains for students.
But many still found it difficult to get tickets,
especially to Urumqi, Qingdao, Jinan, Harbin, Zhanjiang and Nanning. At the
Wuchang Railway Station alone, more than 60,000 tickets were sold on Friday.
In Shanghai, police and security officers were put
24-hour on guard to maintain order and prevent accidents. They gave each
passenger a number and assigned them to different waiting lines.
At the Beijing West Railway Station, 15 temporary
ticket booths have been opened. To keep the lines at no more than 20 people as
required by the Railway Ministry, Beijing railway authority set up410 ticket
booths at the main Beijing Railway Station and the Beijing West Railway Station.
Tickets will be sold around the clock.
Deputy General Manager of the Guangzhou Railway Group
Cao Jianguo asked passengers to "be patient" and "try again" with the booking
telephone hot line 96020088 in Guangdong.
Nine stations in the southern province have been
networked this year with the telephone hotline, which means passengers can pick
up or cancel reserved tickets much more easily by showing identification.
At Guangzhou railway stations, the Guangzhou Command
College of Armed Police was mobilized at seven ticket booths. They were on duty
during last year's Spring Festival rush, which was aggravated by unusual
The Railway Ministry expects 188 million people to
travel during the coming travel rush, up 8 percent from last year, with daily
traffic expected to hit 4.7 million people.
Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Hangzhou are the
"most bustling hubs" before the Spring Festival, which falls on Jan. 26,so
railway authorities have added 319 temporary express passengers trains this
Despite these efforts, many passengers still feared
that they might not be able to get tickets to get home in time.
Qiao Kejiao, a Beijing hospital clerk, said she might
resort to being duty on Lunar New Year Eve and traveling on the second day, when
traffic would be lighter.
In a work meeting that closed on Thursday, Railway
Minister LiuZhijun attributed the annual travel ordeal to inadequate rail
networks. The work meeting decided that speeding up railway construction and
securing railway transportation were the ministry's priority tasks in 2009.
Liu foresaw a "historic change" in 2012 when
intensive investment would extend total track mileage to 110,000 km, including
13,000 km of passenger lines on which trains could run between 200 to 350 km per
The scenario does not offer any immediate comfort.
Associate senior editor of the Study Times, Deng Yuwen, said the real solution
was not in hardware improvement such as more tracks but in management and
In a column in the Shanghai-based Oriental Morning
Post on Saturday, he said that the per capita railway mileage in China was only
6 cm, shorter than a cigarette.
"Even after the mileage is extended from the current
78,000 km to 110,000 km, per capita rail lines in China will only be 8.5 cm. Can
we really say good-bye to ticket shortages by then?"
The real culprit, he wrote, was insufficient
capacity. To improve the capacity, foreign and private capital should be
introduced to break the government monopoly in railway investment, he said.
The ticket distribution system should also be
streamlined to avoid the "gray zone" where so-called "contract units" such as
tourism agencies and outlets take advantage of contacts to hoard tickets that
are then re-sold for illegal profits.
Ticket purchases under real names, a proposal that
has been repeatedly rejected by the railway authorities, could help improve
management and services, he said.