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China Spring Festival: Bullet trains transforming world's biggest migration

Almost 400 million people - that's more than the US population - will travel by train over the Lunar New Year


China Spring Festival
People line up at the Beijing Railway Station ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year

Millions of Chinese cram onto to make the annual pilgrimage home for the holiday. It’s a crowded and often uncomfortable experience that is rapidly being transformed by the country’s push into the world of high-speed rail.

already has the globe’s longest bullet-train network, but it’s plowing 3.5 trillion yuan ($556 billion) into expanding its railway system by 18 percent over the next two years, to 150,000 kilometres, or more than 93,000 miles.

Much of that will be spent on extending the high-speed network westward, which includes parts of the country that ancient Chinese poet Li Bai once lamented were so mountainous that getting there was as challenging as reaching the sky.

Almost 400 million people — that’s more than the population — will travel by train over the Lunar New Year, also known as China’s factories and offices shut down for the week-long holiday, which unleashes the largest migration of humans on the planet. Many of the country’s 1.4 billion citizens return to their hometowns for family gatherings, or, increasingly, are taking the chance to be tourists both at home and abroad.

While the advent of cut-price flights has dimmed the appeal of in other parts of the world, in it’s on the rise. Last saw a record 10.96 million trips on one day, and for the first time more people took bullet than conventional ones, according to official data.

Almost nonexistent in a decade ago, high-speed rail has exploded, with more than half of the 25,000-kilometre network built between 2013 and 2017. The plan is to expand it by more than 50 percent by 2025, with eight main bullet-train lines running from east to west by 2030. China intends to have another eight main lines running from north to south as well.

First Published: Mon, February 12 2018. 20:59 IST