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January 21, 2010

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Millions hitting the road for festival

AROUND 210 million Chinese travelers will face ticket shortages, massive crowds and possible weather difficulties as they try to get home for next month's Lunar New Year, government officials warned yesterday.

The week-long holiday, which begins on February 14, is the only chance many people, including tens of millions of migrant workers, get to return home to see their families each year.

The number of travelers is expected to be 9.5 percent higher than last year. The Ministry of Railways is adding more trains and ticket counters to meet demand, Gao Xiaobing, an official at the ministry, said at a press briefing in Beijing.

"The lack of train tickets during the Spring Festival stems from the problem of not having as much transport capacity as we would like, so the solution is to speed up the development of China's railways," she said.

Ministry of Railways spokesman Wang Yongping said the country was gearing up for numerous challenges such as record-breaking snowstorms and freezing temperatures in northern China.

Although China's rail links have grown rapidly, they still could not meet demand during the Spring Festival travel peak, Gao said.

The use of more high-speed trains and passenger-only lines strengthened capacity, but still not enough for the estimated 210 million passengers during the transport peak.

She said the number of travelers would hit 5.25 million daily and the peak volume could top 6.5 million a day.

However, the daily capacity would be 5.57 million, 430,000 more than last year, Gao said.

Asked about the Hong Kong express rail link, ministry spokesman Wang said it would shorten the distance between Hong Kong and the mainland, cutting travel times between Guangzhou and Hong Kong, for example, to 40 minutes from two hours.

The Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express rail link is part of a 16,000-kilometer national high-speed rail network currently under construction.

The Hong Kong section is expected to be completed in 2015. It will take railway passengers eight hours to get from Hong Kong to Shanghai and 10 hours to Beijing.


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