Trains are the major transportation service in China as they can transport a higher volume of passengers, follow a precise timetable, and have cheaper fares than other methods of travel.
As one of the cheapest ways to travel across some of the long distances in China, traveling by train is also the safest way compared with traveling by air, by coach, and by sea.
This mode of travel is becoming increasingly popular with both natives and foreign travelers alike.
It is important to have a basic idea of the train system in China before you decide to travel by train. For example, the varying types of Chinese trains, the differences between trains operating in major cities and other cities, the classic train routes of China, when to avoid traveling by train, the advantages of traveling by train, and safety instructions.
Although English is not generally spoken by the staff on the trains and limited English signs are available in the railway stations, foreigners usually have no trouble in traveling by train in China due to the broadcasting system which broadcasts in both English and Chinese, and the train information which is shown on the electronic screens in the stations.
Classification of Trains in China
Generally speaking, the trains in China are classified into G-trains, C-trains, D-trains, Z-trains, T-trains, K-trains, and the ordinary trains. The speeds are lowered from the D-trains to the ordinary trains successively, and below is a basic introduction to these trains.
- G-train refers to a bullet high-speed train, being the fastest and most advanced train in China, reaching a speed of between 300 km/h to 430 km/h. The G-trains operate between the major cities of China, such as Guangzhou and Shenzhen, and are equipped with the most comfortable facilities, including first class soft seats and second class hard seats.
- D-train refers to a China Railway high-speed train, which is also known as the domestically produced "Harmony" EMU, with a speed of about 200 km/h to 250 km/h. The D-trains are available in the major cities, such as Guangzhou, Chengdu, Shanghai, and Beijing.
- Z-train refers to an express train which has a maximum speed of 162 km/h and does not stop (or only stops at a few larger stations en route) before reaching its destination. Most Z-trains are air-conditioned with soft sleepers, making them an ideal choice for passengers who travel long distances.
- T-train refers to a superior fast train with a maximum speed of about 160 km/h, which only stops at the larger stations in the provincial capitals and prefecture-level cities. Most T-trains are air-conditioned with soft and hard sleepers.
- K-train refers to a fast train with a maximum speed of about 120 km/h, which only stops at the major stations of the prefecture-level cities and the county-level cities. Over 95% of K-trains are air-conditioned with soft seats and sleepers.
- An ordinary train, which is identified by four numbers, reaches a maximum speed of about 120 km/h, and is the slowest train to reach its destination due to stopping at almost every station along the route.
- L-train refers to a conditional train which operates during busy periods, such as the traditional Chinese spring festival and National Day. Some L-trains are not equipped with air-conditioning.
Classic Tourist Train Routes by Themes
The classic tourist train routes radiate from the major cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tibet, and Xi’an, being well-selected and classified according to the themes detailed below in order to meet the demands of tourists with different interests and time schedules. These include train routes to see China’s historical cities, timeless civilization, and natural beauty, as well as routes for escaping the cold winter or the hot summer.
Train Routes for China’s Historical Cities and Timeless Civilization
The train routes for China’s historical cities and timeless civilization provide passengers with an excellent opportunity to dive into China’s 5,000-year history in an appreciative way. The routes include: Beijing–Guangzhou Route (also known as the longest high-speed railway route in the world); Beijing–Xi’an Route; Chengdu–Xi’an Route; Beijing–Shanghai Route; Xi’an–Tibet Route
The major historical scenic spots are highlighted by Great Wall, Beijing’s Forbidden City, Xi’an’s Terracotta Army, the Chengdu Wuhou Temple, Shanghai Qiandeng Ancient Town, and Tibet’s Potala Palace. The Xi’an–Tibet Route also offers travelers a chance to experience the scenery along the ancient Silk Road.
Trains Routes for China’s Natural Beauty
The train routes to see China’s natural beauty offer passengers a unique way to explore the natural scenery. The routes include: Shanghai–Yichang Route; Shanghai–Kunming Route; Hangzhou–Shenzhen Route; Chongqing–Guilin Route; Shanghai–Suzhou–Nanjing Route
The picturesque natural scenic spots include Shanghai’s Huangpu River, the Three Gorges of Yangtze River, Guilin’s Li River, Hangzhou’s West Lake, and Suzhou Gardens. A cruise on the Three Gorges and the Li River is highly recommended during the daytime, and a night cruise on the Huangpu River is also an impressive experience.
Train Routes for Escaping the Hot Summer
The train routes for escaping the hot summer are the Beijing–Harbin Route and the Changchun–Jilin Route, along which the recommended highlights include Harbin Ice and Snow World, Harbin Yabuli Skiing Center, Changchui Beidahu Ski Resort, and Jilin Songhua River. These routes are especially popular among skiing fans.
Train Routes for Escaping the Cold Winter
The train route for escaping the cold winter is the Hainan East Ring High-Speed Railway, and features a seaside winter escape in Hainan Island. Passengers can immerse themselves in the beauty of Yalong Bay, Lingshui Beach, Wenchang Beach, and Wanning Beach, take a walk along the Coconut Dream Corridor by Sanya Bay, or visit the Temple of Five Ancestors and the Bo’ao Buddha Temple to explore the Buddhist culture.
Recommended Months for Train Travel in China
Generally speaking, it is suitable to travel around China throughout the year due to its varieties of climate and rich tourist resources in different months. For those who have planned to explore the essence of China by train, it is highly recommended to visit China in late April, June, July, September, and October.
- Late April is the best time to appreciate the blooming flowers in Beijing and Kunming.
- Both June and July are the best times to explore the beauty of Guilin’s Li River and the Yangtze River by taking a cruise.
- September is ideal for visiting Tibet and the Silk Road.
- October is the best time to visit Beijing, Xi’an, Hong Kong, and Chengdu due to the cool weather and fresh air, and it is also an ideal time to appreciate the red leaves in Beijing and Xi’an.
However, it is also wise to avoid traveling by train during the peak times in 2016, as train tickets will be hard to book or purchase. The peak times include:
- Chinese New Year: February 7th to 13th, 2016
- Tomb Sweeping Festival (Qingming Festival): April 4th, 2016.
- Labor Day: May 1st to 3rd, 2016.
- Dragon Boat Festival: June 9th, 2016.
- Mid-Autumn Festival: September 15th, 2016.
- National Day: October 1st to 7th, 2016.
Then, it is highly recommended to book trains one month in advance, just in case.
Advantages of Traveling by Train
There are a number of advantages to traveling by train, making it the first choice for foreigners who visit China for the first time.
- 1. Trains leave and arrive on schedule, and there are seldom any delays, especially for D-trains and G-trains.
- 2. It is very convenient for passengers to switch to other means of transport at the railway stations in the major cities, including metro lines, buses, taxis, and coaches.
- 3. It offers passengers a unique way to explore China when they can appreciate the fine views along their journey through the train windows, which is very different from traveling by air.
When traveling by train, passengers are highly advised to take G-trains or D-trains between the major cities of China, including Beijing–Shanghai, Beijing–Xi’an, Shanghai–Nanjing, Chengdu–Chongqing, Guangzhou–Shenzhen, and Hangzhou–Shanghai, where the trains are very fast with comfortable soft seats and bunks.
Tips for Train Travel in China
Below are some helpful tips when planning a trip to China:
- Q: How can train tickets be purchased in China?
A: In addition to buying directly from ticket counters in the railway station and ticket outlets in the commercial areas of the major cities, passengers can also book tickets online or by telephone, and China Highlights also provides a ticket service to our customers.
- Q: Which articles are not allowed to be taken on the trains?
A: A number of articles are not allowed to be taken on trains, including detonators, dynamite, gasoline, diesel oil, and flammable gas. Any items that are deemed unfit for public health by China’s national laws are also not allowed to be taken on the trains.
- Q: What is the baggage allowance on the trains?
A: The maximum weight of carry-on baggage is 20 kg/adult and 10 kg/children, and the sum of three sides of each item of luggage should be less than 160 cm for the ordinary trains and less than 130 cm for the D-trains and G-trains. Passengers should take note of the baggage consignment handling formalities if the baggage exceeds the limit.
- Q: How can the train types and seat class be chosen?
A: Trains in China are classified by train codes: G-trains, C-trains, D-trains, Z-trains, T-trains, K-trains, and number-only trains. With the G-trains and C-trains being the fastest and most comfortable, the speed, facilities, and services reduce in succession from the D-trains to the number-only trains.
G-, C-, and D- trains have business class (best), first class, and second class seats. Z-, T-, and K- trains have soft (more comfortable and spacious) and hard seats, while number-only trains just have hard seats and standing room.
- Q: How can train tickets be collected after booking online?
A: Just show your passport and the pickup numbers sent to your email to the conductor at the ticket window in order to collect any tickets that have been booked online or by telephone. If the booking information is correct, the conductor will issue the tickets.
- Q: What information is stated on a train ticket?
A: The departure and arrival stations, departure date, and seat class are all shown on the train tickets, with the stations being printed in both Chinese and English. The sequence number in red on the first line is the ticket number.
Below the departure station is the departure time, followed by the price and your personal information, such as your name and passport number. Below the arrival station is the seat information, such as carriage number, seat class, and seat number.
- Q: How is a Chinese train boarded?
A: Firstly, passengers should find the right waiting hall based on the ticket information. Secondly, the right gate and line should be found by referring to the electronic screen information in the waiting hall. Thirdly, after their tickets have been checked by the conductors, passengers can join the crowds making their way to the platform via signposted steps and corridors, and board the train.
- Q: How can another mode of transport be taken after disembarking from a train?
A: It is very easy for passengers to transfer to another mode of transport after disembarking from a train. Just follow the crowd from the platform and you will get to the correct exit. Passengers can easily travel to another location by taxi, coach, buses, metro lines, and other trains from the railway station, especially in the major cities. Follow the signs or ask.
- Q: What preparations can be made for traveling on an overnight train?
A: Bunks with sheet, quilt, and pillow, along with toilets, wash basins, and boiling water dispensers are provided on overnight trains. It is advisable for passengers to pack toilet paper, sandals, a cup, a toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, a towel, a washcloth, food, and bottled water.