Mainland transport, energy and security authorities have been put on high alert to cope with the world's largest annual migration of people during the Lunar New Year, with hundreds of millions expected to travel to visit their families.
Senior government officials said yesterday they faced mounting challenges in dealing with the record number of travellers during the 40-day peak travel period, which officially started yesterday.
The problems are compounded by the forecast for poor weather and the poor safety record of railways and road systems.
This year's peak period is expected to see the number of passenger trips on trains, planes, buses and boats reach 3.2 billion, or about 80 million trips a day, according to Liu Tienan , a deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission. This is a rise of 9.1 per cent on last year.
'The huge volume of travellers has exceeded the capacity of our transport system,' said Liu, who is also head of the National Energy Administration. 'The situation is by no means optimistic. The difficulties are unprecedented and the task looks set to be arduous.'
The peak travel period usually sees a sharp rise in all sorts of deadly traffic accidents, analysts note.
Liu said the much shorter period this year between January 1 and the Lunar New Year, which falls in a fortnight, has left most passengers limited time to trek home and exerted enormous pressure on the authorities to cope.
He also noted a warning by the National Meteorological Centre yesterday that bad weather was expected to hit many southern provinces at Lunar New Year and was likely to disrupt road, railway and air traffic.
Sleet and heavy snow are forecast to hit Guizhou , Hunan and Tibet in the next few days.
Jiangxi, Hubei and Yunnan are also likely to see freezing rain and heavy snow during the holidays.
Railway and air traffic authorities said they were prepared for extreme weather. They also promised safety standards would not be compromised despite the pressure of the peak travel period. Hu Yadong , a deputy railway minister, apologised for problems with the newly-introduced online ticketing system over the past few days.
The ministry introduced the online and telephone booking systems and an ID card-based real-name ticketing policy this year in a bid to diffuse mounting criticism over its inability to solve difficulties over the holidays. But both online and telephone ticketing systems crashed repeatedly due to heavy use. Many migrant workers also complained they couldn't buy tickets due to their lack of access to the internet.
According to Hu, nearly two million tickets were sold online every day and the website for online ticketing has seen over one billion hits a day.
'We have to acknowledge that despite all of our efforts, it remains an acute problem in buying a train ticket and there remains a gap between public expectations and our existing measures,' Hu said.