High-speed trains wait to be maintained in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Feb. 1, 2018. (Xinhua/Xiao Yijiu)
Three new railways are expected to help relieve pressure on China's transportation networks during the Spring Festival travel rush — which started on Thursday — granting faster and more diversified ways home during the world's largest annual human migration.
The Xi'an-Chengdu high-speed link and the new Lanzhou-Chongqing Railway, which opened in late 2017, and the new Chongqing-Guiyang Railway, which opened last month, now provide an easier way to get to the Sichuan-Chongqing region — a popular destinations during the rush — from the south, north and west.
This year, 2.98 billion trips are expected to be made during the 40-day travel rush. Train trips are likely to top 390 million, up by 8.8 percent year-on-year, according to the National Development and Reform Commission.
"The three paths have greatly relieved travel rush pressure in the Chongqing and Chengdu region, said Li Wenxin, deputy general manager of China Railway Corp. Chengdu is capital of Sichuan province.
Improvements to the railway system, Li said, also have "increased ... the transportation capability from Guangzhou-Shenzhen area to Chongqing and Chengdu by 40 percent".
Chongqing and Sichuan are a major source of migrant workers, and the region, called Shu in ancient China, is known for its challenging terrain. Poet Li Bai once wrote, "A journey to Shu is more difficult than a journey to climb to Heaven".
In contrast, Guangdong province, the pioneer hub of China's economic reform since 1978, attracts ambitious migrants from all over the country.
During Spring Festival, many migrant workers return home for family reunions. The rail lines from Guangdong to Chongqing and Sichuan are always busy during the travel rush, and tickets are in great demand.
Sales of tickets to travel on the rush's first day started on Jan 3. A report by security software provider Qihoo 360 analyzing those sales shows that the tickets most in demand were from Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong, to Chongqing. The top nine most popular routes departed from Guangzhou and Shenzhen, also a major industrial city in Guangdong. Five destinations among the top 10 most popular routes were in Chongqing and Sichuan. The most popular departure cities were in the Pearl River Delta region.
"The lack of transportation capability in the Sichuan-Chongqing region was a sore spot in railway transportation, in particular a challenge during the Spring Festival travel rush. The corridor will embrace a fundamental change in 2018 thanks to the new lines," according to China Railway Guangzhou Group.
The latest route, Chongqing-Guiyang railway, put into operation on Jan 25, links the Guiyang-Guangzhou and the Chongqing-Chengdu high-speed railways, building a new fast way to travel between the Pearl River Delta and the Sichuan-Chongqing region.
It cuts travel time between Chongqing and Guangzhou from 12 hours to seven.
The national railway system also is making efforts to provide more seats. An additional 1,152 train services will be scheduled at the start of the rush and an extra 1,330 near the end, with 3,819 trains operating every day, according to Li.
Some 9.11 million seats are provided each day during the rush before Lunar New Year, which this year falls on Feb 16, an increase of 5.2 percent. After the festival, 9.33 million seats will be provided every day, growing by 5.3 percent, according to China Railway Corp.
Thanks to the extension of China's high-speed network, travelers will have a faster and more comfortable way home during the travel rush.
Some 58 percent of passengers will take bullet trains. An additional 177 overnight bullet train services will be added to popular routes each night, including Beijing-Harbin, Beijing-Guangzhou and Guiyang-Guangzhou, carrying 100,000 more passengers a day, CRC said.
China's railway network covers 127,000 kilometers, including 25,000 km of high-speed railway.