BEIJING, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) -- Getting train tickets for the Spring Festival used to mean long queues overnight in the freezing wind. Now, the battle to get home to see the family has moved indoors: in front of computer screens.
China's Ministry of Railways (MOR) launched its only ticketing website in 2011 as an alternative to the nationwide network of sales outlets. This year, in order to outwit each other in securing train tickets online, netizens resorted to kinds of ticket purchasing plug-in units.
The free gadget, designed to automatically refresh web pages in order to secure bookings, put the site's server under severe pressure. Data showed that 12306.cn, run by a MOR affiliate, attracted as many as 1.5 billion clicks after news about the plug-ins went viral.
Analysts said the use of plug-ins also increases unfairness, as migrant workers, or other less technical savvy groups of people, will be in an inferior position in the competition for tickets.
The Spring Festival, the most important Chinese holiday for family reunions, falls on Feb. 10, which means the holiday travel period will probably span from Jan. 26 to March 6.
Railway authorities forecast that a total of 224.5 million passenger trips are expected during the period, up 4.6 percent from a year ago.
Although the ministry has taken various measures to ease the ticket purchasing rush, such as extending the presale period, many have still found it extremely hard to secure a single ticket.
Since the first presale for trains during the 40-day travel period started, about 7 million tickets were sold each day, MOR data showed.
The birth of the virtual gadgets reflected the yawning gap between China's limited transport capacity and the huge market demand, analysts said.
Wang Mengshu, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said China's per capita length of railways is only 5.7 centimeters, equivalent to the length of a cigarette, as quoted by the China Business News (CBN).
While the country's gross domestic product (GDP) grew 9.6 percent on average in the past three decades, the total length of railways posted only a meager annual growth 1.4 percent, according to CBN data.