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January 13, 2011

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Bullet trains not an option for migrants

STANDING in the Shanghai cold, his hands buried in his pockets, Peng Hongbing looked a picture of relaxation in yesterday's winter sunlight. But Peng, a native of southwest China's Sichuan Province, knew that a struggle was about to begin.

Third in line at a booth near Shanghai Railway Station as it opened at 3pm, he hoped this time he would leave with a ticket home for the Spring Festival.

"Going home should not be this hard," said Peng.

Traveling home for the Spring Festival was supposed to have become easier for Peng and the millions of others like him. Or at least, so the rail authorities said.

Two new bullet train services began between Shanghai and Sichuan Province yesterday, providing high-end suites costing thousands of yuan. The most expensive ticket is 2,330 yuan (US$352).

Temporary train services are also expected to be added, said local rail officials.

But for Peng - and millions of other migrant workers - traveling by bullet train is an impossible dream.

"One luxury ticket would cost almost a month's wages," said Peng, a chef in a small restaurant. Other bullet train seats are also expensive, twice the price of standard tickets.

So for most migrant workers cheap tickets are the only way to get home. However, these tickets are limited.

Peng had come to the temporary ticket area for the past three days but left empty-handed. Yet he remained upbeat, believing "lining up will pay off in the end."

Yang Zhihong, 40, a native from Sichuan's Mianyang City, managed to get a standing ticket for 300 yuan, even though this means standing for more than 30 hours. In his five years in the city, Yang, who earns 4,000 yuan a month as a carpenter, has always traveled home this way.

Despite the increase of the rail capacity, many low-income passengers still face similar arduous journeys.

Sun Zhang, a rail professor at Tongji University in Shanghai, said the railway operator "should consider passengers' need before starting services."

He criticized the luxury services, especially at a time when so many people are struggling to get home.

More than 6.5 million people left the city by rail during 2010 rush and the figure is expected to be higher this year.

Some sleeper berths on the Shanghai-Sichuan trains were converted to seats yesterday to allow more passengers.

For Peng this means little. Just after 3pm, he left ticketless. The struggle goes on.


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