Every year at this time, China’s rail system groans under a huge surge of holiday traffic. Travelers endure waits of hours — even days — in the winter chill to buy tickets. Once aboard trains, they overcrowd seats. Some sit in aisles. Others are forced to stand for trips of a day or longer.
Veteran travelers such as Wang Ping plan ahead for the arduous trips, knowing that the trains are so crowded that even getting to the bathroom can be a heroic feat.
“You eat very little. You drink very little,” she said. “There are too many people sitting in the aisle, so it’s very difficult to go to the toilet.”
The travails of travel around the week-long Lunar New Year festival, China‘s most important annual holiday, are more than a passing irritant to the 188 million Chinese who’ll board trains during the 40-day peak period. They’re also of concern to China’s leaders, who worry that holiday emotions could turn ugly and trigger social unrest at .
Severe snowstorms a year ago stranded tens of millions of passengers.
So it was little surprise that evenweighed in with some sharp words for railway authorities before the holiday, which is also known as the Spring Festival.
By Tim Johnson, McClatchy Newspapers
” The Ministry of Railways must use its brains to work out many measures to help the people,” Hu said on Jan. 15 . “They should make these measures known to the public in order to lessen social tension and ensure the Spring Festival mission is completed in a smooth manner.”
As in past years during the holiday, complaints have mounted this year of under-the-table sales by rail employees to scalpers. One angry traveler took a video on his cell phone of a railway employee refusing to sell him a ticket. The video clip, which spread rapidly around Chinese Web sites, shows the stone-faced railway employee ignoring angry travelers outside the window as he prints out tickets. Postings with the video accused the employee of intending to sell tickets on the black market.
Sensitivities are so high that the Railway Ministry called a news conference and apologized for “hurting the feelings” of passengers. It vowed to probe illegal ticket sales.
Deputy Railways Minister Wang Zhiguo said 30,000 police officers were keeping order at railway stations, and that they had detained 2,390 scalpers and confiscated 78,200 tickets.
Wang said ticket vendors are barred from carrying mobile phones to their windows to prevent them from colluding with scalpers.