Guide to Chinese Railways & China Trains
The Chinese Rail Network is vast covering a total length of 78,000 kilometres making only the rail systems of the USA and Russia larger. This may end up changing rapidly as the aim is for there to be 120,000 km of track by 2020 with a staggering US$292 billion being invested to achieve this.The Chinese Rail Network is vast covering a total length of 78,000 kilometres making only the rail systems of the USA and Russia larger. This may end up changing rapidly as the aim is for there to be 120,000 km of track by 2020 with a staggering US$292 billion being invested to achieve this.
All of this is necessary though with such a huge population where rail travel is already the most popular method for covering long distances. This is all good news for the China traveller who currently enjoys the possibility of 36,300 train departures a day with that number set to rapidly increase.
Include at Least One Train Journey in your China Tour
Many China tours and holidays include at least one journey and our trips utilise both the overnight sleeper trains as well as the rapidly increasing network of bullet trains. These fast new services are excellent value and often take little or no more time hotel door to hotel door than flying. For those wanting a slower pace an overnight sleeper train is still one of the great travel experiences available in China with trains being clean, safe and comfortable. Our China Self-Guided Adventures have a particular focus on trains.
Please continue reading below to find out more about the Chinese Rail Network including Maps, info about Train Classes, Tickets and Ticketing and the different Types of Trains which run the routes.
GUIDE TO CHINESE TRAIN CLASSES & CARRIAGES
Deluxe Sleeper Cabins in China
This class of carriage is only available on certain routes between major cities such as Beijing to Shanghai and Beijing to Xian. Cabins are two berth with either one upper and lower berth or two lower berths. Flat screen TVs and even DVD players are available. Unfortunately tickets are very limited and have a habit of being requisitioned by officials making them hard to obtain. Consequently we do not offer this class as standard but do ask about upgrading to it.
Soft Sleeper Class on Chinese Trains
Our preferred carriage class, soft sleeper cabins have four berths – two upper and two lower – and a lockable door. There is plenty of luggage space and a table in each cabin. Newer trains may also have flat screen televisions and power outlets for laptop and camera charging. Toilet facilities are at each end of the carriage and there is usually an open public washroom with several sinks. As with hard sleeper, boiled water is available from samovars opposite the conductors cabin.
Hard Sleeper Class on Chinese Trains
These carriages contain open (no door) compartments each of which contain 6 berths – 2 lower, 2 middle and 2 upper. These are the most common carriages on Chinese trains and are a very good way to meet local Chinese people. However, they do tend to be noisy and so are not ideal for light sleepers. Shared toilet facilities exist at the end of each carriage. Boiled water is available from samovars opposite the conductors cabin. We do not normally book this class.
New Bullet Trains Across China
These 300km / hour trains are being rolled out across China at a breathtaking pace and are starting to replace traditional overnight routes used by tourists such as Beijing to Xian and Beijing to Shanghai. They are also common on shorter routes around Shanghai such as to Suzhou or Hangzhou. The trains have second class and first class carriages which are seated and similar to economy or business class on respectively on internal Chinese flights. Basic refreshments can be bought on board. Travel times is often comparable door to door to a flight making these trains an increasingly attractive option.
Shanghai’s Maglev Train
The world’s only commercially operating Maglev train runs from Shanghai’s Pudong Airport to Longyang road station. It takes just over 7 minutes to complete the 30km (18.2 miles) at speeds of up to 430 km / hour (note that it runs at a slower speed before 9am). We often include a trip on the Maglev as part of a transfer to Pudong airport although rarely from the airport which is less practical.
Dining Cars on Chinese Sleeper Trains
Most Chinese sleeper trains will have a dining car although there are exceptions and when trains do not have them a trolley service selling basic food, drinks and snacks will repeatedly pass down the train. The food is nothing to get excited about but is relatively cheap at around £3 to £5 for a meal with a drink. Note that dining cars operate opening and closing times and the beer is rarely cold! They can also get very busy at peak times so you may have to wait for a table.
A GUIDE TO YOUR CHINESE TRAIN TICKET
Deciphering & Translating a Chinese Train Ticket
Despite the rapid development of the rail system in China the ticketing situation is still lagging somewhat. There are no such things as rail passes or even return tickets. In fact, although reservations can be made long in advance, tickets are usually only issued 10 to 2 days in advance of travel. The reason for this is in case the State needs the tickets for officials or delegations or, in the worst cases, unrest ‘closes’ a destination.
When getting on an overnight sleeper train the conductor will either take the ticket from you as you get on or will take the ticket off you once the train departs. The conductor will issue you with a chit for the ticket he is taking off of you which proves you are meant to be on the train. No such chits are issued on bullet trains.
Just before you arrive at your destination the conductor will give your ticket back to you. Keep hold of it until you have left the station building as it is required in order to exit the station.
Below is an example of a typical Chinese train ticket with translations as to what it all means!
THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF TRAIN IN CHINA
What types of train operate in China - a guide to classes
With so many trains departing each day it is not surprising that the classification of all these rail services has to be organised carefully. The first character of the train number indicates the class of the passenger train, often determined by the speed and the relative number of stops the train makes along the way. There are seven alphabetic prefixes as below:
G – High-Speed Electric Multiple Units (EMU) Trains
Commonly referred to as “bullet trains” the “G” trains run the long distance high speed routes (as opposed to the C trains that manage the shorter routes). They can travel as fast as 350 km / hour although 300 km / hour is the norm.
C – “Chengji”; Intercity Trains
These started appearing in 2008 with the opening of the Beijing to Tianjin Intercity Rail – the fastest service in China at the time with a top speed of 350 km/h.
D – “Dongche”; Express Trains
Introduced in April 2007 these trains have only soft sleeper (or soft seat on shorter routes) carriages. The top speed is still an impressive 250 km/h.
Z – “Zhida”; Direct Express
Though its name in Chinese technically implies a “non-stop” train, some of these trains have several stops between the two stations. The majority have only soft sleeper, while very few have hard sleeper.
T – “Te”; Express
This series of trains have a limited number of stops along their routes and only in major cities.
K – “Kuai”; Fast
This series of trains stop at more stations than T-series, and normally have a slower travel speed than the T-series in the same corridor. All K-series trains travel on lines operated by more than one railway bureau.
N – “Nei”; Fast Train within One Railway Bureau
Similar to a K train, but this series of trains travel exclusively within one railway bureau.
1-5 General Fast Train
General Fast Trains (known as Pukuai in Chinese) are slower passenger trains that stop at around half of the stations along the way, resulting in a longer travel time than the fast trains. Route numbers are always four numeric digits – a numeric prefix from 1-5 followed by a 3-digit route number.
6-9 General Train
The General Train, often simply referred to as Puke (general passenger), has as many stops as possible, and is often the preferred choice for rural workers to visit their home villages. This is the slowest type of train and has the lowest priority along the track often arriving very late at it’s destination.
Route identifiers for general trains are always 4 digits – a numeric prefix from 6-9 followed by a 3-digit route number.
CHINA’S RAIL NETWORK MAP
China’s fast expanding rail routes
One of the world’s largest rail networks (behind Russia and America’s) trains reach most Chinese towns and cities using more than 1,000 km of track. Rail is by far the most common way to get between cities in China despite the growth of air traffic in recent years. In fact growth in routes is rapid, particularly with the rolling out of high speed lines that will eventually link all the major urban centres.
The traveller will find the trains well used at the best of times but run up to the Chinese New year period is particularly busy as well as the first week of October. Standards vary enormously between different types of trains. See our guide to classes and train types here for more details.