It's called the world's largest annual human migration -- the Chinese New Year travel rush, with hundreds of millions people heading home. However, many have started their homegoing trips with complaints and frustration this year due to a new computerized ticketing system.
The online ticketing system, www.12306.cn, was launched by the Ministry of Railways (MOR) to make it easier for travelers to make it home during the holiday travel rush. But the attempt has stirred controversy after the website crashed due to overwhelming demand for tickets before the Spring Festival, which falls on Jan. 23 this year.
Some travelers complained of being told upon arriving at their stations that their online orders didn't go through, despite payment confirmation. Meanwhile, migrant workers, who make up a large percentage of China's New Year travelers, said the system was useless to them because they don't have computer access.
Since the website was designed and developed by an MOR affiliate, the China Academy of Railway Sciences (CARS), some complaints were aimed at the ministry. On the other hand, those who managed to get a ticket said the website was helpful. One Internet user wrote on Sina Weibo, a popular Chinese microblogging service: "I had to repeatedly refresh the site for over five hours before I could secure a ticket. Defective, but helpful."
Travelers are also able to buy tickets over the phone 12 days ahead of departure this year. And travelers are required to present proof of identification in order to curb ticket scalping.
CARS deputy director Kang Xiong said there is still a considerable gap between the website's designed serving capacity and demand, as network bandwidth is inadequate.
According to Li Shuyang, deputy chief engineer of the MOR's information and technology center, the ministry underestimated the demand for online ticket purchasing when designing the website. The center is in charge of building and operating the website.
"Daily transactions on the site hit 1.66 million during one peak period, exceeding the site's designed capacity of one million and causing system failures," Li said.
Li said the site's bandwidth has been increased and further expansions will be put into place.
According to Kang, the MOR has begun planning and designing a new ticketing platform featuring multiple purchase channels and multiple means of payment.
The root cause of Chinese New Year travel woes -- a huge gap between the enormous demand and the country's limited transport capacity -- will be hard to bridge, said one industry expert under condition of anonymity.
"No matter how well the system is developed, there will always be people who cannot get train tickets on the website," he said.
More than 3 billion trips are expected to be made during the 40-day travel rush, of which 235 million trips will be made via the country's railways, according to the MOR.