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January 21, 2013

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Rush for tickets as workers strive for a train home

There was intense competition for train tickets yesterday, with everyone wanting to get home for the Spring Festival eve knowing that if they failed the likelihood of a family reunion on February 9 would prove very difficult.

The railway operator's online ticket booking system allows purchases up to 20 days ahead of time. That means tickets for the Spring Festival eve became available yesterday.

Online sales for the Spring Festival rush began on January 7 and on the first weekend, more than 360,000 rail tickets were sold every day, according to the Shanghai Railway Bureau.

Most tickets on services up to February 9 have already been sold out on popular long-distance railway routes including those to Sichuan, Chongqing, Yunan, Guizhou and other northwest provinces and cities, the bureau said.

Would-be travelers often need to rely on luck to secure their seats because the huge demand for tickets often leads to the website,, crashing.

And the online system is making it even harder for migrant workers to find their way home.

Having no computers or laptops in their dormitories, many workers have to go to Internet cafes to try to book tickets only to find they were already sold out.

"The tickets showed 'sold out' as soon as they appeared on the screen, while the hotline 12306 kept being busy," said Tan Qijun, a migrant worker from Chongqing who failed to get a ticket yesterday.

Tan said he wasn't able to afford a plane ticket while the long distance bus took too long, leaving the train the only choice for many of Shanghai's migrant workers.

Ticket booths that have a pre-sale period of 18 days ahead of travel time also have few tickets as the booths use the same system as the online and telephone booking platforms.

Buying tickets online is seen by rail authorities as a better alternative to solutions such as ticket markets set up outside railway stations in the past.

But that alternative has turned out to be a nightmare for the migrant workers who are the major group in the 40-day rush, described as the world's "biggest annual migration," that began on January 26 this year.

To make booking fairer, two Beijing lawyers appealed to the Ministry of Railways over the weekend to publicize the number of railway tickets available during the travel rush.

"We civilians need to know whether the railway operators have distributed the tickets according to rules or whether some tickets might have been reserved for officials," said Xiao Wenbin, one of the lawyers.

Xiao and his colleague Ma Gangquan wrote to the ministry calling for publication of the total number, the number being sold and the distribution ratios on various platforms during the rush period to March 6.

The ministry has yet to reply. According to regulations, it has 15 working days to do so.

This year's Spring Festival travel rush is again expected to be a record-breaker.

The number of passenger trips by bus, train, plane and ship is estimated to reach more than 3.4 billion during the 40-day rush, an 8.6 percent increase compared to last year.

The road network is expected to be under the most pressure with 3.1 billion people, an increase of 9 percent, heading home.

Railway trips are next with a 4.6 percent rise to 225 million.

Meanwhile, trips by boat and by plane are predicted to increase by 1.5 percent and 5.2 percent respectively to reach 43.08 million and 35.5 million.

Citywide, a total of 15.78 million commutes are expected daily on Shanghai's buses, subways and taxis during the travel rush, authorities said.

Getting home is particularly important as it is often the only time of the year that many families can get together, sometimes not having seen each other for a period of several years.


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