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It's not just the speed of the trains

06-01-2011 15:42 BJT

My first trip to Beijing was to work at China Daily, and it started with a bus. My hometown, Nantong city in eastern Jiangsu province, had no rail connection.

So, on a hot August morning in 1999, my father and I dragged a few bags and got on to a bus to Nanjing, the provincial capital. After nearly five hours, we boarded an air-conditioned train from Nanjing to Beijing. Fifteen hours later, we arrived at Beijing Railway Station, without much sleep because of noise and bounce.

The train was then the fastest, with top speed of about 160 km/h, running on tracks designed when trains ran much slower. Lying on a hard, narrow berth that night, I could feel every slope and turn of the line, and wondered if the train running that fast would derail.

Nonetheless, I was elated to be working in Beijing, although this did have its annual torture - the days of frustration for a train ticket before the Spring Festival, the trouble of dragging heavy luggage from a railway station to a bus station, and fatigue resulting from a sleepless night on the train.

Fortunately, the pain has eased. In 2003, a railway line was laid to my hometown. After two years of cargo transport, the line was open to passengers in 2005. The Beijing to Nantong trip is now just overnight.

Everything is getting better, except that ticket prices are soaring and are still difficult to get. In 2009, the authorities said trains between Nantong and Beijing would have only soft sleepers, which cost higher, about 450 yuan ($69). Previously, people could choose a hard sleeper, at about 300 yuan.

It is just like what people at some cities have found when high-speed trains are introduced. The only difference: the ministry did not even bother to introduce faster trains between Beijing and Nantong.

The good news is that the railway system is making small changes, and people's needs are considered more than in the past.

Railways Minister Sheng Guangzu announced in April that high-speed trains would slow to 300 km/h, and more 200 km/h services would come on line. I applaud this policy, because cheaper prices are what more people want.

The other change announced by Sheng is that from June 1, tickets will have the passenger's name on it to prevent scalping, and online purchase will start with the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway in late June.

I find the second change even more exciting. I remember that at a media conference last year, a foreign reporter said China's train ticket sales system is still in the 1960s, far behind the speed of its trains. People still have to queue for tickets at stations or ticket agencies.

I cannot guess how the railway officials felt, but as a Chinese, I felt hurt. Perhaps with the ministry taking a new approach of trying to satisfy the people and reforming the system, there will come a day when we can all be proud of more than just the speed of the trains.

Editor:Wang Xiaomei |Source: China Daily

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