Passenger rail transport in China

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Passenger trains in Shanghai

Passenger rail transport is one of the principal means of transport in the People's Republic of China, with rail passenger traffic exceeding 1.86 billion railway trips in 2011.[1] It is operated by the China Railway Corporation(CR). The Spring Festival Travel Season is the peak railway travel season of the year.

China is currently redeveloping its entire railway network to produce a modern high-speed network. China is on course to complete its 18,000 km national high-speed rail network by 2015.[2]

Passenger train classes and route identifiers[edit]

An electronic display board at Shanghai south railway station with a list of departures
Ticket offices usually have display board showing availability of tickets on various trains in various classes, for a few days ahead. At the moment, the board shows data for a few K, L, and "general" trains. The great majority of seats available are in "hard seat" (often, "no seat", 无座) category

Every train route has an identification number of two to five characters arranged by the Ministry of Railways. The first character can be alphabetic or numeric, while the second to fifth characters are all numeric.

Trains are classified as either up (even-numbered) trains or down (odd-numbered) trains. Since the capital Beijing is treated as the focal point of the rail network, trains from Beijing are down services (e.g. the T109 from Beijing to Shanghai), while trains towards Beijing are up services (e.g. the T110 from Shanghai to Beijing).

Trains that do not go either to or from Beijing are similarly designated up or down based on whether the railway they are traveling on would eventually lead them away from or towards Beijing. For example, the Z90 from Guangzhou to Shijiazhuang is an up service as it travels from Guangzhou in the direction of Beijing, but terminates in Shijiazhuang before reaching the capital.

Some longer routes change from being an up service to a down service, or vice versa, mid-route, with more than one reversal being possible on the same route. In this case, the train would have two designations. For example, the G1202 and G1203 both refer to the same train from Harbin to Shanghai. From Harbin as far as Tianjin West Railway Station, the service is the G1202 up service traveling in the "up-direction" of the Beijing–Harbin High-Speed Railway towards Beijing, but after Tianjin West the train begins traveling away from Beijing down the Beijing–Shanghai High-Speed Railway towards Shanghai, becoming the G1203 in the process.

The Z31/Z34 from Wuchang to Ningbo is a more complicated example. It starts as the Z31 down service from Wuchang to Zhuji, traveling away from Beijing. At Zhuji, it becomes the Z34 up service towards Beijing. However, one stop later at Shaoxing, it reverts to being the Z31.


The first character of the route identifier indicates the class of the passenger train, often determined by the speed and the relative number of stops the train makes along the way.

As the Rule of The Edit and Management of Train Timetable, a rule issued by Ministry of Railway, the arrangement of following passenger train classes was put into practice from April 1, 2009.

High-Speed Rail[edit]

G ("Gaosu", 高速; High Speed Train)

This is a series for long-distance high-speed trains. These are generally the fastest services available and the top speed can be up to 350 km/h (217 mph) but are limited to 300 km/h (186 mph) operationally. As such they generally serve only lines capable of such speeds. G1–G5998 is used for the trains that run in more than one railway bureau's territory, while G6001–G9998 is used for the trains that run in only one railway bureau's territory.

D ("Dongche", 动车; EMU Train)

This series has become available after the sixth rise in speed of the railway on April 18, 2007. The top speed will be up to 250-160 km/h but are limited to 200 km/h operationally. These trains are powered using CRH series electric multiple units (EMUs) named "Harmony" (Chinese:和谐号, Hexiehao). D1–D3998 for the trains running through two or more railway bureaus, D4001–D9998 for the trains running within one railway bureau. While most "D" Services run on high-speed rails, a limited number of services do travel over conventional railways at conventional speeds for a portion of their journey to connect some cities off the high-speed network.

As of 2009, D-series trains provide fast frequent service between main cities in China. For example:

Besides, a few other nighttime D trains go to more remote destinations, such as the services between Shanghai and Beijing.

C ("Chengji", 城际; Intercity High-Speed Train)

This series has become available after August 1, 2008 with the opening of Beijing–Tianjin Intercity Rail. It represents the EMU trains with shorter travel distances, and mainly running within one railway bureau. The top speed is 350 km/h (e.g. Beijing-Tianjin) but most operate from 200-160 km/h. C1–C1998 for the trains running through two or more railway bureaus, C2001–C9998 for the trains running within one railway bureau. Some of these services run more as commuter trains to/from satellite cities surrounding major urban centres or from downtown to the airport, as at Lanzhou.

Conventional Rail[edit]

Z ("Zhida", 直达; Non-Stop Express)

'Z' trains, though their name in Chinese (Chinese: 直达; pinyin: Zhídá) technically implies a "non-stop" overnight train, some of these trains have several stops between the two stations. The majority have both soft sleepers and hard sleepers, while some Z trains have only soft sleepers. The top speed is 160 km/h. It uses the numbers Z1-Z9998 without regard to the number of railway bureaus entered.

This series became available after the fifth rise in speed of the railway on April 18, 2004. Early on (2004–2006), all but one of the Z-series trains had either Beijing or Beijing West station as their destination or origin. As of 2009, Z-series trains also operated along the Yangtze Valley as well, providing overnight service from Wuhan to Shanghai, Hangzhou, Ningbo and Shenzhen.

An express train running between Harbin and Dalian
T ("Tekuai", 特快; Express)

This series of trains have a limited number of stops along their routes, only in major cities, or in some instances stops for switching the driver or locomotive. The top speed is 140 km/h. T1–T4998 for the trains running through two or more railway bureaus, T5001–T9998 for the trains running within one railway bureau. The standard pronunciation on the railway system is "Te"() in Chinese.

K ("Kuaisu", 快速; Fast)

This series of trains stop at more stations than T-series. The top speed is 120 km/h. The standard pronunciation on the railway system is "Kuai"() in Chinese. K1–K6998 are used for the trains that run in more than one railway bureau, while K7001 to K9998 will be used for the trains that run in only one railway bureau.

After April 18, 2004, N-series trains, which represent fast trains travelling exclusively within one railway bureau, were derived from K-series. Then all K-series trains travel on lines operated by more than one railway bureau. After April 1, 2009, N-series was re-merged to K-series after April 1, 2009.

An air-conditioned General Fast Train from Chengdu to Ürümqi West
General Fast Train

General fast trains (普通旅客快车, which can be shortened to 普快, Pukuai) 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. The top speed is 120 km/h. Route numbers are always four numeric digits—a numeric prefix from 1-5 followed by a 3-digit route number. Numbers 1001–1998 for the trains running through three or more railway bureaus, 2001–3998 for the trains running through two railway bureaus, and 4001–5998 for the trains that run in only one railway bureau.

General Train

The general train (普通旅客列车, which can be shortened to 普客, Puke) has as many stops as possible, and is often the preferred choice for rural workers to visit their home villages because of low ticket price. This is the slowest type of train and has the lowest priority in the Fixed Train Timetable (图定列车). The top speed is 100 km/h.

Route identifiers for general trains are always 4 digits—a numeric prefix from 6-7 followed by a 3-digit route number. 6001–6198 are used for the trains that run in more than one railway bureau, while 7001–7598 will be used for the trains that run in only one railway bureau.

A Wuhan North-Wuchang South employee commuter train (No. 7613) makes a rare appearance in the arrival announcement board at Wuchang Railway Station. Although the service has been operating since 2010,[3] the train - or either of its terminals - have never been listed in the reservation systems accessible to general public.
Commuter Train

The Commuter Train (通勤列车), is usually runs for railway staff, and generally their tickets are not available for passengers. Route identifiers for commuter trains are 4 digits with a range of 7601–8998.

L ("Linshi", 临时; Temporary Train)

The "L" trains are temporary — they are not listed in the official train schedule, but are added when necessary. Many of these trains only operate at peak passenger travel season such as during the spring festival period. In addition, many new train services are originally added as L-series before train schedules are readjusted and later become regular services. L1–L6998 are used for the temporary trains that run in more than one railway bureau, while L7001–L9998 will be used for the trains that run in only one railway bureau. The standard pronunciation on the railway system is "Lin"() in Chinese.

Y ("Linshiluyou"; Temporary Tourist Train)

This series is mainly used for trains that run to popular sights, such as the S2 Line of Beijing Suburban Railway, which runs from Beijing North to Yanqing, and connects to the Great Wall. Besides, travel agencies can apply to the Ministry of Railways for organizing additional passenger trains for the tours.

S("Shijiao"; Suburban Commuter Rail)

This is a newer class developed to utilize idle tracks (mostly industrial or former industrial) to provide commuter travel to larger city centers from its suburban areas. Existing service until 2015 are S2 line from Yanqing County to Beijing, and Tianjin–Jixian Railway from Ji County to Tianjin. The Jinshan Railway from Jinshan County to Shanghai also fell in this category, but it is fully embedded in Shanghai Metro lines therefore tickets are not available on CR's website; while the other two offers more coventional service.

Accommodation and fares[edit]

Trains at Yichang station. The orange two-level cars are hard-seat cars of a day train from Hankou

High-Speed Rail[edit]

  • Business Class Seat (Chinese: 商务座; pinyin: shāngwù zuò), on a few services pending on train type, such as the CRH380AL or CRH380BL trains. 3 seats per row (2+1). Lie-flat seats with airline style catering provided.
  • Premier Class Seat (Chinese: 特等座; pinyin: tèděng zuò), can vary, pending on train type, from being similar to Business Class style seats or First Class seats located in premier or sightseeing positions such as behind the drivers cab. 3 seats per row (2+1) or compartment seats. Unlike Business Class seats, these seats are not lie-flat seats, but can in general recline.
  • First Class Seat (Chinese: 一等座; pinyin: Yīděngzuò), used for CRH series EMU trains. There are 4 seats per row (2+2), just similar as soft seat.
  • Second Class Seat (Chinese: 二等座; pinyin: èrděngzuò), used for CRH series EMU trains. Similar as hard seat, there are 5 seats per row (3+2), the sitting area is relatively small.
  • Sleeper Berth, used for CRH series EMU trains. Found on only a few 'D' trains running overnight between Shanghai-Beijing or Beijing-Shenzhen. Similar as a soft sleeper on conventional trains but are limited to 4 berths to a compartment. Some upper berths can fold away to permit running purely as seated passengers.

Conventional Rail[edit]

  • Hard seat (Chinese: 硬座; pinyin: Yìngzuò) is the basic fare, somewhat similar to the economy class on an airplane. On busier routes, passengers who cannot arrange for better seats because of overcrowding must also purchase this type of ticket. In some cases, tickets are sold with no seat assigned (无座, wú zuò), which allows the railway to sell more tickets than there are seats in the car. Still, even the number of "no seat" tickets offered for sale is limited, to keep overcrowding within limits.
  • Soft seat (Chinese: 软座; pinyin: Ruǎnzuò) is one level above the Hard Seat. There are 4 seats per row (2+2), so it has comfortable seating similar to business class on airplanes.
  • Hard sleeper (Chinese: 硬卧; pinyin: Yìngwò) is the basic accommodation for an overnight train. Despite the name, the bunks comfortably accommodate anyone below six feet. Bunks are arranged three on a side in a compartment—indicated by top, middle and bottom on the ticket. There are no doors for the compartments.
  • Soft sleeper (Chinese: 软卧; pinyin: Ruǎnwò) contains a wider bunk bed in an enclosed cabin, two bunks to a side. There is more room for luggage storage than in hard sleeper. Occasionally there may be an entertainment system where movie channels are available for viewing through headphones and an LCD display for each bunk.
  • Deluxe soft sleeper (Chinese: 高级软卧包厢; pinyin: Gāojí Ruǎnwò or Chinese: 高包; pinyin: Gāobāo) is the top level sleeper that is only provided by a few trains. The ticket is also much more expensive than that of soft sleeper. It only contains two beds in a cabin, and there is an independent toilet in every cabin. Some of them have a shower cubicle in the car.

Common to high-speed and conventional trains are Standing tickets, these do not entitle the person to a seat and they must stand for the journey. During peak travel seasons, can lead to extreme overcrowding. Ticket holders are assigned to a carriage, on conventional trains it is usually hard seat carriages only, and not permitted in soft seat or sleeper carriages. On High-Speed trains, fewer standing tickets are available and limited to entry vestibules and cafe cars. At stations or from on-board vendors, small folding seats are often sold to allow these passengers to sit in the aisles.

The fares are different between trains with or without air-conditioning.

Blue Style Railway Ticket
Pink Style Railway Ticket

The majority of train tickets in China are thermally printed paper tickets displaying the train's origin and destination, service number, price, date and travel time, accommodation type, class and seat number, as well as a barcode for security checks. Some tickets on the CRH routes such as Nanjing–Shanghai–Hangzhou or Guangzhou–Shenzhen use machine-readable tickets i.e. tickets on the Nanjing–Shanghai route have a magnetically encoded stripe for future use of automatic ticket inspection gates being implemented at major stations along the route, whilst tickets on the Guangzhou–Shenzhen line have embedded RFID microchips which can be read by proximity readers mounted above the ticket gates.

Most trains feature some kind of on-board catering service. Vendors with trolleys walk through the train selling snacks, drinks, fruit, newspapers etc. On shorter distance trains and many high-speed trains, there is a cafe-car selling light snacks, tea, coffee, beer etc. whilst conventional long-haul trains have full service restaurant cars. At many stations along the route, vendors will sell fruit, prepared food and instant noodles on the platforms during the stops for conventional trains. Hot-water is provided in almost every carriage for passengers to make tea or instant noodles.

Smoking is generally not permitted in the accommodation or washroom areas of the trains but is allowed in the restaurant/cafe area and in the vestibules between the cars. On modern trains such as CRH or Beijing Suburban railway smoking is completely banned, with some smoke detectors connected to the brakes to stop the train, causing errant smokers facing hefty fines and penalties. On the Guangzhou–Kowloon cross-border train smoking is only permitted in the cafe car.

E-tickets and Internet ticket purchase[edit]

A ticket of train 6461 in new layout, which was bought from the official ticketing website

Since July 12, 2011, the e-ticket system has been adopted on Beijing–Tianjin Intercity Railway. From December 23, 2011 all tickets can be bought at the official ticket website except for trains due to depart in less than two hours.

Debit card and credit cards with the China Unionpay flag are accepted.

Identification of one of the following types is required:


ID Card[edit]

ID-only check in is still unavailable at some stations with high-speed railway access, such as Hankou, Guilin and Luoyang Longmen.

Applicable only to holders of a second-generation ID card: In lieu of the traditional paper ticket, passengers may swipe their cards to pass through automatic entry and exit gates at stations on the following routes:

Passengers checking in with their ID card may request a paper ticket within 31 days of completing their journey.

Paper ticket[edit]

Passengers without a second-generation ID card must collect paper tickets at the ticket windows of rail stations, or authorized ticket-selling agents (火车票代售点) whose shops can be found in cities throughout China. The e-ticket number as well as proper identification of all passengers are required.

Tickets are checked at both departure and arrival stations.

Changes and refunds[edit]

Changes to online bookings can be made up to 2 hours before departure.

If within 2 hours of departure or already in possession of a paper ticket, passengers must make changes at the rail station.

Combined transport[edit]

Combined transportation trains allow passengers to remain on a single train during two routes, without transferring to a different train at the station where the route changes.


Beijing–UlaanBaatar–Moscow International train

No. T97B/98B (BeijingKowloon) and No. T99B/100B (Shanghai-Kowloon) are combined transportation trains. Passengers can complete all formalities in their departure station, and no longer need to alight at Dongguan.

International combined transportation[edit]

A few trains can transport passengers out of China to places such as Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, Moscow in Russia, Almaty in Kazakhstan, P'yŏngyang in North Korea, Hanoi in Vietnam and so on.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tony Jin (2012-12-27), China High Speed Train Development and Investment 
  2. ^
  3. ^ 武汉铁路局将开行武昌南至武汉北间职工通勤列车 (Wuhan Railway Bureau will start an employee commuter train between Wuchang South and Wuhan North), 2010-8-20

External links[edit]