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High Speed Trains in China

High Speed Trains in China

Old Nov 4, 18, 8:44 am
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High Speed Trains in China

First time in China with family - this Jan/

Will be travelling between Shanghai and Beijing.
I am wondering about plane vs high speed train?

What are your thoughts about options?

Not speaking Chinese - is that a problem at the train station or in the train?

Can one get a ticket in advance of arriving at the train station, or only a voucher on line for a ticket.
Can a hotel concierge get the actual train ticket?

I would presume no signs at the train station or on the train are in English. Nobody would speak English at either the train station or in the train?

But I understand trains on time performance much better than domestic flights?
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Old Nov 4, 18, 9:13 am
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Originally Posted by FlyerGoldII View Post
First time in China with family - this Jan/

Will be travelling between Shanghai and Beijing.
I am wondering about plane vs high speed train?

What are your thoughts about options?

Not speaking Chinese - is that a problem at the train station or in the train?

Can one get a ticket in advance of arriving at the train station, or only a voucher on line for a ticket.
Can a hotel concierge get the actual train ticket?

I would presume no signs at the train station or on the train are in English. Nobody would speak English at either the train station or in the train?

But I understand trains on time performance much better than domestic flights?
I usually take planes these days, but the trains aren't so bad, apart from the train stations and the miserable food. We have an entire thread on the Jinghu line:

The Jinghu (Beijing-Shanghai) High Speed Rail thread
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Old Nov 4, 18, 1:55 pm
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Just to be clear, train stations are fairly well-marked in English, pretty clean and orderly, well-stocked with fast-food outlets, and usually well-integrated with local transport. But they are vast and filled with travellers, so they can be very disorienting on your first or second visit. I'd say airports are the same.

I believe ctrip/trip still offers a ticket delivery option.
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Old Nov 4, 18, 2:59 pm
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Originally Posted by 889 View Post
Just to be clear, train stations are fairly well-marked in English, pretty clean and orderly, well-stocked with fast-food outlets, and usually well-integrated with local transport. But they are vast and filled with travellers, so they can be very disorienting on your first or second visit. I'd say airports are the same.

I believe ctrip/trip still offers a ticket delivery option.
IMO train stations are definitely more disorienting than airports, due to the shear volume of people. However, they are extremely easy to navigate after you get to the departures area because tickets list track numbers (along with an a or a b to guide you to the right section of the train). I usually don't allow much more than 10 minutes in train stations unless I need to stock up on BK or KFC (there is nothing better, sadly).
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Old Nov 4, 18, 3:34 pm
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". . . because tickets list track numbers"

Maybe HSR tickets do, but other tickets certainly do not.

" . . . unless I need to stock up on BK or KFC (there is nothing better, sadly)."

You mean no McD? The noodles/dumplings chains aren't bad if you're hungry. It is China, after all.
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Old Nov 4, 18, 4:16 pm
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Originally Posted by 889 View Post
Just to be clear, train stations are fairly well-marked in English, pretty clean and orderly, well-stocked with fast-food outlets, and usually well-integrated with local transport. But they are vast and filled with travellers, so they can be very disorienting on your first or second visit. I'd say airports are the same.

I believe ctrip/trip still offers a ticket delivery option.
Originally Posted by 889 View Post
". . . because tickets list track numbers"

Maybe HSR tickets do, but other tickets certainly do not.

" . . . unless I need to stock up on BK or KFC (there is nothing better, sadly)."

You mean no McD? The noodles/dumplings chains aren't bad if you're hungry. It is China, after all.
1. I haven't taken a non-HSR train in about 10 years (assuming D counts as HSR), so I don't know about non-HSR tickets. Incidentally, I miss the Z trains between SH and BJ because the food was pretty good, and some of them arrived later than 7a

2. Yes, there is Chinese fast food as well, but I can barely stomach Kungfu when it is hot, let alone 2 hours later when I get hungry. BK is marginally better than McDs IMO, and I've learned to be tolerant of KFC out of necessity (largest restaurant in China by a considerable margin)
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Old Nov 4, 18, 6:02 pm
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Let ust say I do not want to buy ticket from the train station. I do not want to pick up the train ticket from the train station if I have a voucher.

Can I get a ticket directly on-line, which will let me go directly to the train.

Will a concierge from a 4 to 5 star hotel (eg Fairmont, Marriott, Hilton) be able to get guests a train ticket (again, no voucher, invoice - but the actual ticket)?

PS-do the main train stations in the largest Chinese cities (esp Beijing and Shanghai) have information booths/desks/counters whereby the person can speak English?
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Old Nov 4, 18, 6:11 pm
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Your hotel concierge can get tickets for you or you can buy at a remote ticket office (these are littered about Chinese cities). I also despise will call because it adds a layer of uncertainty to an otherwise predictable, to the exact second, process.

I don't know of any information desks (I. E never noticed), but you are unlikely to need information about anything. KFC is easy enough to find because every train station seems to have at least three of them, and as I mentioned up thread, the track number is displayed on your ticket.
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Old Nov 4, 18, 6:38 pm
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Anyone who buys your ticket for you will need your passport.

As said, ctrip will deliver tickets and there will probably be a city ticket office nearby if you want to DIY.

I've never seen an information booth conveniently staffed by English speakers in a Chinese train station. If you've got a question, you find someone in a uniform of some sort and ask. In Chinese.
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Old Nov 4, 18, 6:52 pm
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Originally Posted by 889 View Post
Anyone who buys your ticket for you will need your passport.
I've never had an issue showing pictures of passports on my phone, and I've bought many train tickets for other people this way.
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Old Nov 4, 18, 7:03 pm
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Hi,
We've traveled by high speed train numerous times in China and you won't have a problem that you can't figure out...just allow yourself a bit of extra time. Your hotel will purchase tickets for you for a small fee and its worth every penny as we only speak English too. The stations are huge and you have to watch the boards for your train number and boarding gate. Be prepared to move quickly when the gate is opened for your train as it can almost be a stampede and when you get down to the platform you have to figure out where to stand for your cabin...that was biggest problem that we had, but there are many helpful English speaking travelers that will help you out. Make sure you book first class as you'll have a nice assigned seat with big windows to view the countryside.
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Old Nov 4, 18, 7:08 pm
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Originally Posted by weather View Post
Hi,
We've traveled by high speed train numerous times in China and you won't have a problem that you can't figure out...just allow yourself a bit of extra time. Your hotel will purchase tickets for you for a small fee and its worth every penny as we only speak English too. The stations are huge and you have to watch the boards for your train number and boarding gate. Be prepared to move quickly when the gate is opened for your train as it can almost be a stampede and when you get down to the platform you have to figure out where to stand for your cabin...that was biggest problem that we had, but there are many helpful English speaking travelers that will help you out. Make sure you book first class as you'll have a nice assigned seat with big windows to view the countryside.
1. As I mentioned twice previously, the track number is written on the ticket for G and D trains at least

2. The tickets also show your car and seat number. Since the cars are clearly numbered, it is pretty easy to find the correct one. For station stops (i.e. when you get to the platform before the train, simply show your ticket to a train official, and they will advise where to stand)

3. I buy first class for shortish trips, but for SH-BJ, I have a hard time justifying the extra expense (it's almost always possible to fly on a desirable flight for less than Y950)
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Old Nov 4, 18, 7:44 pm
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Moondog...you are the resident specialist and I defer to your knowledge and experience. I'm answering the OP as a fellow Canadian who was not used to a completely different transportation system. I've only been to China a few times and I love it, but there is a learning curve that takes a bit of time.

I would only travel first class whether a short trip or a long trip
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Last edited by weather; Nov 4, 18 at 7:47 pm Reason: adding
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Old Nov 4, 18, 8:16 pm
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I recently took a few trains in China. I have had nothing to do with the purchasing side of things, that's always been handled by the relatives we are staying with. Note that I speak only a handful of Chinese words and read none.

At the station: Only once was it not completely clear where we were supposed to go and that was a question of what area to go to--had I been alone it would have been easy enough to resolve by showing one of the station people the ticket and looking puzzled--I'm sure they would have pointed in the right direction.

Beyond that it's basically like an airport--you have a train number on the ticket, the train numbers are listed on the departure board along with track numbers. A train is "boarding" (you can go to the right platform--if you're at an intermediate stop the train might not be there yet) when it's green. I actually did better than my Chinese-speaking companions at this, for some reason they were looking at a secondary board with only three trains on it--our train was the fourth on the big board when I double-checked as it was getting close to train time. I'm not sure we would have made it had I not noticed it, as it was my wife was the very last person getting on the train. (This was an intermediate station and we had a long walk to our car. While I didn't time that stop I timed the others on that leg, the shortest was 4 minutes, the longest was 7.)

Every sign of importance was easy to figure out. Generally there were symbols that made it clear even if you couldn't understand them, and there was enough English to get by without the symbols. Announcements on the train (but not the station) were done in Chinese/English, as well as the scrolling information displayed in the train car. I have yet to see anything in China on tracks where the signs weren't adequate for an English speaker to travel (I've never been involved in purchasing), although I have seen buses that weren't so clear.

Expect security checks at every station, sometimes even two checks. Sometimes it's just baggage x-ray (and I've yet to see security want to look in anyone's bag), sometimes there's also a WTMD backed up by wands if it rings--whatever the wand beeps on generally gets a pat-down, although they normally ID by touch and you don't have to show the metal. One screener wanted me to drink a little bit from a water bottle in my pocket (and had enough English to say this), everyone else just grabbed it and gave a bit of a squeeze, enough to get that characteristic crinkle they make, and went on. Note that this is not TSA-level security, I can't think of anything I would reasonably want to carry as a tourist that would be prohibited.

China has gotten a bit nuts with the metal detectors recently--the craziest example was at some tourist thing, I forget what now. There were detectors that everyone had to walk though but absolutely zero follow-up when they rang, as they did for everyone (there was no x-ray for your bags, everyone was carrying their stuff through them.)
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Old Nov 4, 18, 8:17 pm
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Originally Posted by weather View Post
Moondog...you are the resident specialist and I defer to your knowledge and experience. I'm answering the OP as a fellow Canadian who was not used to a completely different transportation system. I've only been to China a few times and I love it, but there is a learning curve that takes a bit of time.

I would only travel first class whether a short trip or a long trip
I haven't seen first class on the high speed trains, we have always traveled second and I don't really see what more I need.
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