Heavy weather adds twist to Lunar New Year exodus

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 February, 2007, 12:00am

About 50,000 passengers, mostly migrant workers, have been stranded in Guangzhou over the past few days by bad weather in northern provinces.

Twenty-three trains were delayed by snow and high winds from Friday night to Saturday morning, leaving thousands of travellers caught up in the annual Lunar New Year rush to return home.

Parts of the city's main roads, including Huanshi Xilu and Renmin Beilu, had to be blocked off to traffic to accommodate delayed passengers as they spilled from a square outside the train station.

'The peak of the rush has already come,' said Luo Yuqiu , spokesman for the Public Security Bureau in Guangzhou's Yuexiu district. 'It came three to four days earlier than in the past.'

He said police were being placed under more pressure than usual and had to arrange for more manpower in the square.

'We now have 1,500 policemen, armed police and guards to keep order everyday, which is up by 10 to 15 per cent,' he said.

Mr Luo said more people had chosen to travel by train this year because of the Ministry of Railways' decision not to raise ticket prices.

He said police and the railways had to cope with the peak crowd on the sixth day of the spring rush last year, but it had occurred on the second day this year.

But local railway officials disputed the police figure, saying 20,000 to 30,000 passengers at most were affected by the delays.

Zhu Haibin , who works in the Guangzhou Railway Station's party commission office, said the average delay was between one and four hours.

In total, about 30 trains were delayed on Saturday and 20 yesterday, but fewer than 10 were expected to be delayed today, he predicted.

'Officials from the ministry are working with us so the trains will be back on schedule soon,' he said.

Mr Zhu said the number of passengers travelling from Guangzhou Railway Station - one of the busiest mainland stations during Lunar New Year - was expected to rise at least 4 per cent to 2.5 million this year, with a peak of 200,000 a day.

'We really hope to keep to within these limits, otherwise the pressure will be hard to deal with,' he said

One of the main reasons for the crush is the massive number of migrant workers heading home from their jobs in the industry-intensive Pearl River Delta.

All tickets for journeys out of Guangzhou are sold out, except for trains to Wuhan .

Beijing Railway Station has for the first time limited the number of tickets to five hard sleepers and 10 hard seats per person in an attempt to control scalpers.

Ministry of Railways figures show 19.81 million people chose to travel by rail from February 2 to Thursday, a 10 per cent increase over the same period last year.