Thousands of people queue in front of temporary counters at an exhibition center in Ningbo, Zhejiang province,on Sunday, to buy train tickets. [Photo: Chinadaily.com.cn]
Railway stations across the country have been encountering an early travel rush as thousands of migrant workers return home for Spring Festival holiday.
The Ministry of Railways last month estimated that this year, the railways would carry a record 188 million passengers - 8 percent more than last year - across the country during Spring Festival season. Although the official holiday is 3 weeks away, millions are heading home early because many have lost their jobs as a result of the financial crisis.
In the 3-day New Year holiday alone, more than 520,000 people boarded trains at the Beijing railway station. This, according to statistics, is 20 percent more than last year.
"In the upcoming travel season, more than 180,000 people will leave the Beijing railway station every day," Cai Yanmei, an official at the station, said.
Beijing railway officials expect the crowds to surge after Jan 20.
"We will face more pressure this year because migrant workers, college students and other passengers will get home in less than a month," Jiang Lin, a press official at Beijing railways bureau said yesterday.
Jiang said the bureau is preparing for the crowds by opening more ticket offices and scheduling additional trains. The government also advanced special railway services for Spring Festival for 10 days, he said.
In Shanghai, nearly 30,000 people lined up at railway stations to buy tickets last Thursday - the first day that people could buy tickets for departures on January 11, the start of the peak travel season.
Among the thousands were 43-year-old Liu Xiaofu and his friend, both from Sichuan province. The two slept on the square in front of the station on New Year's Eve so they could be among the first ones in the queue to buy tickets to Chengdu, Sichuan province.
"Tickets were sold out in half an hour after the windows opened," Liu told China Daily.
Apart from Sichuan, tickets to Jiangxi and Hunan provinces are in demand, a source at the Shanghai railway station said.
To maintain order, railway police officers give passengers token numbers and assign them to different queues. Armed police and security officers have also been deployed to maintain order at ticketing areas and prevent accidents.
(China Daily January 5, 2008)