On February 1, the 40-day 2018 Spring Festival travel season, called “Chunyun” in China, officially began. As the most important traditional festival in China, the Spring Festival is a time for family reunion, so countless Chinese people who work elsewhere return to their hometowns for the festival.
The annual Chunyun travel rush marks the world’s largest human migration. China’s transport authorities estimate that the railway will transport 390 million passengers during this year’s Chunyun. Unlike previous years, high-speed trains will make their trips home much faster.
At 4:00 a.m., before daybreak, passengers already queued up outside the east entrance to the Beijing South Railway Station. Train G4907, which ran from Beijing to Anqing, Anhui Province, was the first train departing the railway station during this year’s Chunyun.
“G4907 is a temporary train that operates from February 1 to March 12, the last day of this year’s Chunyun,” explained train conductor Yan Tao. At its maximum capacity, the train can carry up to 556 passengers. On the first day of its operation, it had a seat occupancy rate of 80 percent. Based on past experience, the peak time will arrive four or five days after Chunyun began.
According to its timetable, each day Train G4907 departs from the Beijing South Railway Station at 6:15 a.m. and arrives in Anqing at 1:19 p.m. after a seven-hour and five-minute trip. On its return trip, the train departs from Anqing at 4:45 p.m. and arrives at the Beijing South Railway Station at 0:25 a.m. of the next day.
Chunyun is a severe test for railway staff. According to Yan Tao, the crew on Train G4907 must be on board as early as 4:00 a.m. “They need to continue working until the train comes back to Beijing in the wee hours of the next day.”
Zhang Guiqin, 48, is a cleaner on the train. Like other crew members, she needs to work for 18 hours per shift. Her duty is to keep the carriages, aisles, toilets and seats clean. “Though a tough period, Chunyun lasts for only 40 days,” she grinned. “I’m ready for it.”
Xu Guozhu, 33, a native of Lujiang County, Anhui Province, has worked in Beijing for a dozen years. He took the train to his home for a reunion with his wife and son. According to him, it now takes only six hours by a high-speed train from Beijing to Tongling, a county close to his hometown. A decade ago, however, such a trip costed 16 hours. In 2000, when he began to work in Beijing, he spent nearly 24 hours returning home during that year’s Spring Festival. “High-speed trains make travel more convenient and comfortable, and cut the travel time considerably.”
When speaking of their aspirations for the Lunar New Year, most passengers on the train wished a safe, prosperous life for their families.