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January 19, 2012

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The long travel rush to get home intensifies as thousands leave city

RUSHING into a makeshift shelter at the north square of the Shanghai Railway Station as the rain and darkness fell, one man laid his heavy bags down on the wet ground.

He had no umbrella, but he did not seem to care about that as he put a piece of pancake in his mouth.

"My meal," he said simply.

The pancake, finished in minutes, could be Qin's only meal on a 10-hour train journey to his hometown in Shandong Province in eastern China.

Qin lit a cigarette as behind him swarms of railway passengers carrying their luggage or their children on their backs began to enter the station.

They were just a small fraction of the 270,000 people who left Shanghai yesterday from three main railway stations as the travel rush intensified ahead of the Spring Festival holiday.

Their journeys will not be easy, with bad weather forecast across the country in the days to come. Rain and snow are expected in southern, central and northeastern China from today until Sunday, the Lunar New Year eve.

The weather was blamed for a bullet train losing power as it headed from Beijing to Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province, yesterday morning, causing delays along the Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed rail line. The railway authority said the train's problems were related to the foggy weather, which shrouded the area and reduced visibility.

"Problems like that are the last things we want to see," said Wu Zhenrong, an official at Shanghai Railway Station.

Railway operators are adding trains to handle the huge number of passengers but buying a ticket home is still difficult.

Some people unable to get tickets are taking matters into their own hands.

Zhu Gexin, an Anhui Province native who has been working in Shanghai for 15 years, is organizing three buses to take nearly 60 fellow travelers home to Anhui for free.

"Looking at all the anxiety and worry on my fellows' faces, I think I should do something," said Zhu.

The operator of a local website, he came up with the idea of arranging buses and offering seats to fellow passengers. He persuaded a tourist zone management department in his hometown, Anhui's Qianshan County, to provide the buses and cover fares and expenses.

The bus journey will take about six hours and save the passengers hundreds of yuan in fares.

Around the country, there are campaigns to get car owners to give free rides to those in need, an idea that is gaining support online.

According to a campaign called "mutual help league for going home during the Spring Festival," there are more than 37,000 people in Shanghai alone registered for the car-sharing scheme.

Hundreds so far have been successfully matched with drivers.


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