Train travel in China is either the country at its best or its worst. Some people feel that a visit to China that doesn’t include at least an overnight rail journey is an incomplete one. For fans, the gentle rocking of the car, the unhurried pace, the rice fields, mountains, and rivers slipping past the window, and interaction with seat and cabin maces, can be the embodiment of travel to a distant destination. For others, riding trains in China can be a nightmare, filled with staring car mates who spit on the floor, stay up all night playing cards and making noise, while English hounds corner the captive tourist to practice their ABCs. Regardless, there may not be a choice commuter flights are not as common in China as they are in the US, and some shorter routes may be served only by rail or road links, not air.
Beijing can be reached by rail from a handful of international destinations including Moscow, Ulan Bataar, Hanoi and in theory, Pyongyang in North Korea. For train tickets to these places contact 5182 1114 (for all three rail stations). Since July 1997, following China’s resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong, a new service has been running between Kowloon and Beijing. The jingjiu line has been specially built and allows express trains to make the more than 2,500-kilometer trip in around 28 hours. Besides this line, of course, once in China almost all railway routes lead to Beijing. Beijing and Shanghai are linked to Kazakhstan via Urumqi in China’s border Xinjiang region. This railroad is known as the bridge to Europe as it serves as the main cargo transportation coute between Ningbo port (in Zhejiang province) and Rotterdam. Numerous luxurious trains, featuring two-berth cabins with private toilet facilities, leave Beijing each evening bound for Shanghai. Journey times are as little as 12 hours on the non-stop services.
Train accommodation is available in soft sleeper, hard-sleeper, soft-seat and hard seat carriage. Sleeper accommodation provides a berth in either a four-bed compartment with door, or a six-bed without a door. All soft sleeper carriages enroute to Beijing have air conditioning, as do most hard sleepers. However, be aware that they do not always have heat. Discovering that one’s car is not heated during a 14-hour, overnight journey can be a very rude awakening.
Beijing’s ticket offices are computerized, as are those in most provincial capitals. This makes ticket purchasing much quicker than it was a few years ago. Food is available on the train and from platforms en route, although quality can vary from decent to inedible. Boilers for hot water exist in every third sleeper carriage.
Incoming trains terminate at either the aging Beijing Station, or the modern Beijing West Station, which opened at the beginning of 1996. , Beijing Station serves routes with termini in the north, north-east and south-east, namely the provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, Inner Mongolia, most of Ningxia (Yinchuan), Hebei, Tianjin, part of Henan (Luoyang), Shandong, Jiangsu, Anhui, Shanghai, Zhejiang, and parts of Fujian. Beijing West Station serves termini in Xinjiang, Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, Chongqing, Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi, Shaanxi, part of Hunan, Hubei, Jiangxi, part of Fujian and Guangdong.
The Beijing West Rail Station now has an orderly taxi line. However, taxi chaos still reigns outside the Beijing Rail Station and the traffic regulations concerning the setting down and picking up of fares only compounds the situation. Some drivers demand exorbitant fares from baggage-laden arrivals, whether they be foreign or Chinese. If you can walk a few hundred meters away from the station you will be treated more respectfully. Beijing Station is conveniently located on the subway system. Outside the West Railway Station to the east (right) there are a number of bus stops with regular departures to the central part of the city.
Regarding the purchase of tickets for travel out of Beijing, bookings can be made up to four days ahead of departure, but things are changing, with the selling of tickets up to 20 days in advance being tested. The concept of roundtrip tickets for rail journeys still has not caught on, so it is advisable to make securing one’s return transportation the first order of business upon arrival at your destination.
Both stations have special ticket offices for foreigners. At Beijing Station it is located on the ground floor in a room off the soft sleeper waiting room in the .southeast corner of the main hall. At Beijing West Station, the ticket office is on the east side of the first floor. Office hours for both are the same, 5.30 a.m. t0 10.30 p.m., and closed for lunch from 12.00 p.m. t0 1.00 p.m., daily.