Railway officials give up setting a deadline to end ticketing nightmare for Lunar New Year passengers

Authorities have given on deadlines to relieve travel woes for Lunar New Year passengers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 January, 2014, 4:35pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 January, 2014, 3:48am

Railway authorities have backtracked - again - on promises of hassle-free journeys for hundreds of millions of passengers during this year's Lunar New Year holiday by admitting they have no quick fix to the ticketing woes of previous years.

Some people will have trouble securing a train ticket home, they admitted, as the 40-day travel rush begins tomorrow. The world's busiest railway system is expected to handle a record 258 million journeys - an increase of almost 8 per cent from last year - during the largest annual human migration on earth.

The travel period, called chunyun, or "spring transport", in Putonghua, will run until February 24.

The announcement by the railway authorities came during a press briefing led by Lian Weiliang , vice-chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission.

"The current transport capacity hardly satisfies needs at peak passenger flow," Lian said. "Although transport infrastructure has developed quickly in recent years, passenger flow also increases every year. In some places people will have difficulty getting tickets home."

The mainland's train-ticketing system has long been a subject of pain and frustration during the Lunar New Year, when tickets are snapped up as soon as they go on sale. A much-maligned online booking system has been criticised for only exacerbating travellers' pain.

The now-defunct Ministry of Railways recognised the problem as early as 2007 and promised to eradicate the ticket crunch by 2010. In 2009 it rolled the date back to 2012, and 2011 the target was set for 2015.

This year, officials have not promised a target date at all. Hu Yadong, deputy general manager of China Railway Corporation, said at the news conference only that "the ticket crunch problem will be eased gradually as a result of actions we've taken". The CRC is the new national railway operator that emerged after the closure of the once powerful ministry.

"Since this year's Spring Festival is earlier than usual, the flow of students, rural migrant workers and family visitors is expected to be intensely overlapped," Hu warned. "Train traffic will boom day by day and railways shall see continuous peaks."

The latest announcement on ticketing sparked wide debate on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter.

"One way or another, there must be a way out of this pain," wrote a medical student. "Many of us work the entire year just to go home to see our families."

Some sympathetic internet users said such problems were unavoidable, given the mainland's huge population.

The Ministry of Transport estimates that about 82 million people will travel each day during the period. Some 860,000 passenger buses will be deployed to make about 2.6 million trips each day, ministry spokesperson Liang Xiaoan said.